How Schrödinger’s Cat Renewed My Fascination With Science

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Nobel-prize winning quantum physicist Erwin Schrödinger was born on August 12, 1887, which means he would have been 126 years old yesterday. The Interwebs celebrated by honoring his famous thought experiment, Schrödinger’s Cat.

Google got in on the fun, creating a Google doodle:

Photo courtesy and
Photo courtesy

And Twitter feeds filled up with cat-related tweets.

Schrödinger’s Cat has long been a fascination of mine. One of my favorite t-shirts says, “Schrödinger’s cat is dead” on the front, and “Schrödinger’s cat is not dead” on the back. When I wear it, a lot of people don’t get it, which means despite the Google doodle and Twitter mentions, there are people out there who don’t know what The Cat is all about. Well, I’m here to help out.

Readers, I give you Schrödinger’s Cat, presented by minutephysics:

I don’t remember now when I first learned about Schrödinger’s Cat, but when I did, it pretty much blew my mind. So it’s no surprise, really, that it plays a fun and significant role in my forthcoming novel, Now That You’re Here. But it would have been a surprise had you known me during my high school years.

While I never showed promise in math (probably due more to my deciding I wasn’t good at it than my actual potential), in eighth grade one of my favorite subjects was science. In 8th grade science class, we dissected frogs, studied how smoking affected the lungs and learned how hot dogs are made. (I never ate another hot dog again). My teacher was a way cool hippie lady who was excited about science and made learning fun.

Then I went to high school and everything changed. My science teachers were…well, mostly I think they were tired. And who can blame them, really. My husband taught high school for three years. In the evenings he would arrive home after a full day of teaching, loosen his tie and collapse on the floor. I’d nudge him sometime before the late shows came on and tell him to go to bed. He said teaching high school was like tap dancing all day long. So, on one level I can forgive my tired high school science teachers. But on another level, when I look back at those years, I’m really, really disappointed.

Somewhere between my freshman and senior years, I totally forgot that science is fun.

I read this NPR article yesterday: Why Aren’t More Girls Attracted to Physics, and it resonated with me. I don’t think they even taught physics (as a standalone subject at least) at my high school. I don’t recall there being any female science teachers. And, as I said, the teachers I did have didn’t inspire me to explore the subject beyond what was required for exams.

If I’d known then what (little) I do now about physics, I definitely would have been interested. If someone then had made a fun lesson out of Schrödinger’s Cat, I would have been hooked.

Sometimes I wonder where that could have taken me.

But, it’s never too late to start learning, right? I did learn about Schrödinger’s thought experiment, and that cat let my geeky side out of the bag (sorry, that was bad).  I’m making up for that earlier lack of interest in science. Now I love reading about string theory and the LHC, learning about sonarluminescence and contemplating parallel universes. I certainly don’t understand everything I read about quantum physics (ha, even the thought of that makes me laugh), but I love exploring the ideas presented  and  wondering about the possibilities.  I love that beside the novels on my bookshelf, there are books like these:

And perhaps most of all, I love that somehow along the way, I became a science fiction author.

So, happy birthday, Dr. Schrödinger. My hat is off to you, sir. Thank you for sharing your Cat with the world.