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Monday, February 22, 2021

It's Quantum Doughnut Week!

What exactly are quantum doughnuts? Well, first you need to understand quantum dots, which are one of these areas where real science and engineering have so far outstripped science fiction that it’s an embarrassment to we in the Professional Imaginationeering business. To put it very simply, quantum dots are atom-sized synthetic semiconductor particles that, because of their incredibly tiny size, have remarkable electronic and optical properties that are very useful in quantum computing, medical imaging, flat-screen TV manufacturing, and a host of other applications. If you want to dig into it more deeply we can, but be forewarned that the conversation will involve things like “exitons,” “electron holes,” and “quasiparticles,” which I swear, are not terms I’m just making up.

Quantum doughnuts, on the other hand—or more properly, “Aharonov-Bohm nano rings”—are an accidental by-product of manufacturing quantum dots. They are doughnut-shaped structures that have the remarkable property of being able to slow and even freeze light, and that can be used to hold individual photons and then to release them on command. The implications of this are still being worked out, but they promise to produce much more quantum weirdness to come.

“Quantum Doughnut” is also the title of a short story by our very own Pete Wood, which was first published in Page & Spine in December of 2016 and subsequently made into a short film by Ray Petrolino Productions. The film was making the rounds of the indie film festivals when COVID pretty much shut that outlet down, so if you’re the impatient sort you can watch the film right now on YouTube at this link: “Quantum Doughnut.” [The producers ask that if you do watch the film and like it, that you also leave a rating and a kind comment about it on IMDB.]

However, if you have a bit more curiosity, we have lined up a series of posts for this week talking with the people involved in the production about just what was involved in turning Pete’s original short story into a script, and then into a completed film shot on an actual location, by a professional crew, using real actors and actresses. Personally, I found the whole process fascinating. 

To begin, then, let’s begin where the filmmakers began: with the original short story.

 


 

“Quantum Doughnut” • A short story by Peter Wood

Mangum held up the piping-hot doughnut he had just bought at Krispy Kreme and smiled at the visiting professor from the far side of the galaxy. “You really should eat yours before it cools, Dr. Helzug.”

The alien took a bite. “Outstanding.” In seconds he had polished off the doughnut. He licked his fingers and wiped his hands on a napkin.

Mangum doubted anyone in the art deco eatery realized the man across the table was the emissary from an eons-old race. Helzug resembled a middle-aged used car salesman, not an alien who knew a theory that united physics and religion. Too bad he wouldn’t share it.

“This place has been around since before I was born,” Mangum said.

Helzug set one of the 1950s-era paper Krispy Kreme hats on his bald head. The shop gave them free to customers—usually kids. “Why did the college pick you to escort me here?”

“The physics department chair said that I knew doughnuts,” Mangum joked. He suspected Helzug had chosen N. C. State, because of the local cuisine. The alien had sampled a dozen barbecue joints in a fifty mile radius. He was a big fan of local microbrews.

“Ah. A more useful field than physics.” Helzug pointed to the Plexiglas that separated the dining area from the kitchen. A conveyor belt snaked through ovens and vats of boiling oil. “How’s that contraption work?”

Mangum was still surprised how an alien who knew the secrets of the universe was more interested in the little things of life. “The dough goes in one end, gets shaped, then the doughnuts are deep-fried. Then they get glazed—”

Helzug frowned. “Glazed?”

“They’re coated with liquid sugar. First one side. Then the machine flips the doughnut and does the other.” Mangum cleared his throat. “So, y’all believe in a science that connects the spiritual—God—with the material—physics?”

“Not exactly. God isn’t just an abstract concept. He exists as much as ions and electrons.”

“The scientific method can’t prove that God exists.”

“I have to disagree with you, Professor.” Helzug plucked a napkin from the dispenser. “There’s a simple proof that connects quantum theory and what you call a Supreme Being.” He pulled a pen from his pocket. “Some worlds welcome the truth. Others fear it.”

Mangum leaned forward. Politicians, clerics, and academics had been trying to pry this very information from Helzug for months.

And then, the front door chimed open. A man’s bellowing voice filled the room, “So, I boarded my horse on the ferry from Boston to Nova Scotia and they fed him tap water, not bottled water. Then we get to Halifax and there’s no first class stall.”

Mangum turned his head and saw an overweight white-haired man at the register with a small crowd. All wore Duke University sweatshirts. They were probably in town for the football game against State tonight. Mangum wanted to tell the blowhard to shut up.

But Mangum did nothing.

Helzug sat the pen down on the battered Formica table and picked up another doughnut. He took his time eating it before speaking again. “God is outside time,” he said at last. “We have learned to be timeless also. We exist in multiple timelines.”

“Multiple timelines? Y’all—”

The voice drowned out Mangum. “I don’t know why the concierge recommended this dump.” The loudmouth brandished a half-eaten doughnut at the next table. “I’ve had toothpaste better than this crap. And the coffee? If you want good coffee, you have to go to France. North Carolina. . .”

Mangum tried to tune out the man. “We have religions that say God is outside time.”

Helzug crossed his arms. “Yes, but your physicists would laugh at such a concept.”

“You’re right about that,” Mangum said.

“Millennia ago, we were like isolated doughnuts in the kitchen, only aware of our immediate spot on the conveyor belt. Now we can see the entire machine.”

Mangum hadn’t thought of time as being like an assembly line. “I see…”

“And this damned Filipino working the show in Halifax,” the voice thundered. “He feeds my show horse Fuji apples, not Gala. Idiot. I complained to the management.” The Duke fan laughed. “I hope they fired him.”

“I see the timelines now,” Helzug said. “I can assure you that man does stop talking eventually.”

“Thank God,” Mangum said.

“Such a man is focused on himself and his immediate time and space.” Helzug took a sip of coffee. “Sad.” He pointed to the conveyer belt. “A doughnut, if it could think, might be on that belt and miss being glazed. But, a worker could move the doughnut back to the start and right that wrong. And the doughnut would not understand.”

“I don’t understand,” Mangum said.

Helzug bowed his head.

The air stirred. Everything stopped. Then people moved backwards. Mangum felt nauseated and closed his eyes.

He opened them again after a moment.

“I glazed the doughnut,” Helzug said.

The door opened. A man in a flannel shirt and faded jeans strolled up to the cashier. “Give me four dozen of the world’s best doughnuts. Our church is taking some inner-city kids to the game. What’s a tailgate without doughnuts, right?” The man was the spitting image of the loudmouth horse owner.

Mangum turned around. The table of Duke Fans was gone.

Mangum blinked. “How?”

“Such things are possible with our race. The man is now much happier. He took a different path. He can see beyond himself.” Helzug crumpled up the napkin. “Earth is not ready for the proof. Yet.”

“Will we ever be ready?”

Helzug patted Mangum’s hand. “Someday.” He stood up. “For now, let’s purchase some more of those amazing doughnuts.”

¤     ¤     ¤

Coming tomorrow: what it took to begin to turn this sweet little story into a finished film.

Bon appetit!  

1 comment:

Paul W Celmer said...

Love the story! Funny and hits home. It is good to see both physics and Karma hard at work!