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Quantum Santa Uncovered

Quantum Santa Uncovered

Physicists are keen to explain everything in terms of quantum mechanics - from how life began to why green tea is good for you - but could a quantum mechanical Santa really explain how kids all over the world wake up to stockings full of presents on Christmas morning?  Leila Sattary reviews the latest research on Quantum Santa States.

At this time of year it has become traditional for physicists to pour out explanations and calculations to prove that Santa does not exist. Their calculations usually estimate the number of good Christian children in the world, the distance that Santa would have to travel to deliver presents to them all in 31 hours, due to different time zones, and the rotation of the Earth. You can calculate that Santa’s sleigh has such a large mass travelling at a ridiculous speed that he would burn up in the atmosphere instantly due to the enormous friction he would feel from air resistance.

Evidence for old Nick’s existence is beginning to mount1, however, as physicists realise that quantum mechanics can explain how he gets all those presents to millions of children around the world.

In 2005, researchers took a sample of DNA thought to belong to Santa from an unfinished mince pie in Milton Keynes, England. Analysis showed unusual genetic coding, which gave the donor the curious property of having a very low density, almost vacuum-like. These findings were soon linked with an emerging field of physics that regards Santa in terms of quantum mechanics.

Researchers focused first on Santa’s ‘wavelength’ according to the de Broglie hypothesis, which applies to objects - including people - as well as particles. If Santa was indeed of very low mass, they reasoned, it would make his wavelength very large, similar to that of a quantum particle.

Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle says that it is impossible to know everything about a particle at once. So a ‘particle’ – here, we take that particle to be Santa - with a well defined mass cannot have a well defined position. A wavefunction-Santa could, theoretically then, be in as many places as required simultaneously, giving him plenty of time to deliver presents and eat as many mince pies as he liked. Remember: Saint Nick’s unique genetic make-up means he could eat truck loads of pies without gaining weight.

Current research is also revealing that a quantum mechanical Santa could easily tunnel though walls to enter houses without chimneys. This ties in with the experimental evidence for Santa being only very rarely observed. On the odd occasion that a child switches on a light and observes Santa, say scientists, he collapses into what is called an ‘eigenstate’ – like Schrödinger's cat, once Santa is seen, he ceases to exist in many different states and becomes plain old Father Christmas, caught red handed. He would then be forced to escape up the chimney in the traditional manner.

Many unanswered questions still remain. If Santa is capable of being everywhere at once, then why the reindeer and sleigh? Do they share a similar low density? If he doesn’t need his sleigh, does he just ride around on Christmas Eve for fun?

Researchers in this area, now coined QSS (quantum Santa-states), have struggled to find journals to publish their work. Some peers believe this is field that should be left well alone, arguing that billions of children will be disappointed by the notion that Santa uses magic and not a simple application of quantum mechanics. Others counter that most of us believe quantum mechanics and magic to be interchangeable in any case.

1 Rufus Landii, (2006), Observations of flying ‘sleigh’ object, Seasonal Research, pp 994-1002.

Check out Leila's page for a whole heap of magical articles. 

It's cold outside, but to get a warm feeling inside, speak to other Null fans by joining our Facebook group. (Some of them are pretty hot).

More Christmas crackers from the Null:
- Yum yum - Null's got Christmas all trussed up
- Fun fun - Retro toys make the best presents
- Well duh - Last minute gifts can't cut it
- You name it - Festive research papers

Title image: Joseph Hoban
De Broglie images: Denz Zani (stuff), Craig Jewell (skinny Santa),
 Brandy Dopkins (snorkel), Gaston Thauvin (calculator).

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08 Dec 2010