By Andrew Liszewski
If you’re not familiar with some of the theories related to quantum mechanics, this alternate universe kit by Jonathan Keats’ might not make much sense to you. But take my word for it, there is some logic here. Way back in 1957, a physicist by the name of Hugh Everett came up with what is known as the ‘many-worlds interpretation’ of quantum mechanics, where the universe continually spawns off alternate universes whenever a “subatomic system consisting of a superposition of two likely states reduces to just one.” In a very crude way of thinking about it, if in your universe you decided to order pizza, another universe is created where you ordered Chinese instead. So based on Hugh’s theory, Jonathan Keats created these alternate universe kits, and here’s how they work according to him:
Everett’s theory addressed the question of how a subatomic particle can exist in a quantum superposition – for example being in two places at once – until someone observes it, at which point the observer finds it to be in only one place at a time. The explanation Everett gave is that the particle remains in both places when it’s observed, but the observer’s entire universe splits as the measurement is made, so that from that moment forward there are two separate observers living in separate universes, both identical except for the observed location of that single subatomic particle.
The kit uses a quarter-inch sphere of uranium-doped glass to provide a steady supply of subatomic particles, placed in close proximity to a sliver of scintillating crystal which measures the radioactive decay, effectively observing a quantum process – and splitting the universe.
The DIY kits are available for just $20, but you can only get them from the Modernism Gallery in San Francisco. And if Hugh Everett’s many-worlds interpretation theory has piqued your curiosity, I recommend checking out an episode of NOVA that ran a couple of months ago called Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives where musician Mark Everett (Hugh’s son) goes on a quest to learn more about his father and his multiple universe theory.