Shovel Ready

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“Good news, guys,” said Jack, as he entered the room. “The Senate Committee will give us the money for a Physics Hall of Fame.”

“Isn’t there one already?” said Fred. “They have a web site where they list the top scientists.”

“Yeah,” said Jack, “but this Hall will be real, and it’ll be huge.”

“Wow,” said Bill, “how much will they give us?”

“One billion,” said Jack. “Of course, some of them pushed back. They asked whether the money shouldn’t be used for science. But I said that science is pretty much settled. For now, at least.”

They all laughed, then Fred spoke. “What’s it going to look like, then?”

Jack nodded. “I told them it’d be a torus. Then I tried not to smile while I watched them look it up on their Blackberries. I said it would be a huge black torus, lying flat.”

“Did they understand that?” said Fred.

“Don’t think so,” said Jack. “But then I told them it’d be like a giant, flat donut, hundreds of yards across, and in black granite, so it can symbolize the center of a black hole. We’ll have visitors arrive on a moving walkway that takes them up and over the top of the ring. We can call that spot the Event Horizon.”

“Hey,” said Fred, “we can have a concession there, selling T-shirts with 'Has Anyone Seen My Electrons?' printed on them.”

“Good idea,” said Bill. “But then what do the people do?”

“They’ll go down a slope into the center, and they’ll arrive at the Hawking Pavilion,” said Jack. “And, before you ask—yes, Stevie said he'd do the official opening.”

“Then what?” asked Fred.

“They’ll pass through the Pavilion and into an open area,” said Jack. “We can call it the Higgs Field.”

“What will be in the field?” said Bill.

“Nothing, of course,” said Jack. “You can’t see anything in a Higgs field, can you?”

“But we’ve got to have something for people to look at, don’t we?” said Fred. “I mean, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has guitars and drums, and other fun things. But we don’t have anything interesting like that.”

“We could have a building with busts of all the Nobel Physics winners,” said Bill.

“Hmm, maybe,” said Fred. “And kids would get prizes—like a piece of candy—for every one they can identify.”

“Well,” said Jack, “at least we wouldn’t need to buy much candy.”

“There could be an exhibit called Schrodinger’s Box,” said Bill. “You know—we’d tell people there’s a cat inside, and they’d have to guess if it’s dead or alive.”

“Then what?” said Jack, frowning. “We open the box, and show the little kiddies a dead cat?” He paused, then said, “Besides, there never was a Schrodinger cat. The cat was fictional.”

“My neighbor has a cat,” said Fred, with a vacant stare.

Jack looked sadly at him, then said, “Any other brilliant ideas?”

“How about we get a piece of the CERN?” said Bill.

“What do you mean, a piece?” said Jack.

Bill nodded. “A cross-section from the accelerator. It’s miles long, right? They won’t miss a few feet, will they? And they probably don’t even need it any more, now they found the Higgs.”

“Sometimes I wonder about you, Bill,” said Jack. “Tell me, did you really study for your doctorate? Or did you buy a diploma from the Dollar Store?”

“No,” said Bill, frowning. “I got a Ph.D. in string theory.”

“So did I,” said Fred.

“Oh well, there you go, then,” said Jack.

“What does that mean?” said Fred, defensively.

“Hey,” said Bill, “How about a huge Jumbotron up above, for the visitors to look at?”

“That’s good,” said Jack, nodding. “What would it show?”

Fred smiled. “Maybe the screen could just flash the biggest unsolved puzzles in physics, and folks could write down their suggested answers and pop them in a box.”

Bill nodded. “Like . . . why is there something rather than nothing . . . that kind of thing?”

Jack sighed. “Don’t you even know that answer to that, Bill? Isn’t it obvious why there’s something rather than nothing?”

“Well then,” said Fred, “how about . . . what will happen to the universe? Let’s ask them that one.”

“Not a good idea,” said Jack. “The universe is clearly going to die a dark, cold death. Folks will get upset when they realize that. We could have a riot on our hands.”

“Well,” said Bill, “what about asking them what time really is?”

“Jeez,” said Jack, “don’t you know? There’s no such thing as time.”

Fred looked puzzled. “But Einstein said—“

“Albert didn’t’ get everything right, did he?” said Jack. He paused, then added, “Okay, I think we have some ideas to work with. I’ll go back to the Committee and tell them we’re ready to hand out the shovels for the project.”

Fred frowned. “I won’t have to use one, will I?”

“Of course not,” said Jack. “That’s why we chose to become physicists, after all. We don’t do any actual work, do we?”

They all laughed.