Written freshmen year (Winter 2010/2011), here’s a short comedic play about the intersection of college behavior and quantum particles. Read it for laughs and/or a better understanding of quantum mechanics through easily understandable, probably inaccurate examples. It won second place in the Science Playwriting Competition at Princeton University.

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Characters: Neha, dressed in pajamas and a bathrobe; Andrea, dressed in jeans and a short-sleeved shirt; and the Narrator, dressed in a suit and tie. 

Interior: a common room with a couch, microfridge (mini-refrigerator with a microwave on top), and television. The TV is downstage left angled to face center stage. The couch is center stage facing the TV. The microfridge is left with a box of Cheerios above the microwave portion. The main door to the common room from the outside hall is located stage right. There are two desks cluttered with papers upstage against the back wall and two doors to bedrooms also against this wall. All the doors are closed. Neha sits on the couch watching an episode of The Twilight Zone and we can faintly hear the legendary introduction. The same small segment of the introduction should be played at the beginning of each scene. The Narrator stands behind a podium downstage right. For now, the narrator is not illuminated and will only be lit during his speaking segments. Also, when the narrator speaks, all other characters are frozen in time until the narrator has stopped speaking. This holds true until stage directions say otherwise.

SCENE 1

A knock comes on the door and Neha pauses the episode. She gets up and opens the door. It is her roommate Andrea.

Neha: Hey, what’s up?

They high-five.

Andrea: Not much. Sorry you had to let me in. I had to run to my exam this morning and forgot my keys. What’s up with you?

Neha: Not much. Watching some Twilight Zone.

Neha goes back to the couch while Andrea goes to get the microfridge and grabs a box of Cheerios from above the microwave. She then walks over to get a bowl from her desk.

Neha: How’d it go?

Andrea: You mean physics 305?

Neha: [Back at the couch.] Yeah.

Andrea: It was fine.

Andrea walks back to the microfridge and pours Cheerios into the bowl. She reaches for the refrigerator but stops. Neha is also about to press play when Andrea asks her:

Andrea: Is the milk still good?

Neha: I’m not sure. Maybe check the expiration date?

Andrea pauses to consider, but decides she is too lazy to put in the effort to check.

Andrea: Nah. I’m fine with dry Cheerios.

Andrea walks over to the couch and sits down. Neha presses play on the television.

Lights out.

SCENE 2

A knock comes on the door and Neha pauses the episode. She gets up and opens the door. It is her roommate Andrea.

Neha: Hey, what’s up?

They high-five.

Andrea: Not much. Sorry. In a rush to get to my exam I forgot my keys. Have you seen them?

Neha: No, sorry. You sure they haven’t moved anywhere?

Andrea: Of course I’m sure. Why would they move?

Narrator: Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. The physical characteristics of momentum and position cannot both be known with large precision. Therefore, Neha jokes, she is not sure where the keys are because he knows too much about where they are going.

Neha goes back to the couch while Andrea goes to the microfridge and grabs a box of Cheerios from above the microwave. She then walks over to get a bowl from her desk.

Neha: [Back at the couch. Jokingly.] Heisenberg…

Andrea: [Fake laughter.] Oh ha ha ha, you joker.

Andrea walks back to the microfridge and pours Cheerios into the bowl. She reaches for the refrigerator but stops. Neha is also about to press play when Andrea asks her:

Andrea: Is the milk still good?

Neha: I’m not sure. Maybe check the date on the carton?

Andrea opens the refrigerator door and pulls out the milk.

Andrea: It says it expires today. [Looking at Neha annoyed.] Dude, I told you it would expire soon and that you needed to pick up more.

Neha: Sorry.

Andrea: [Frustrated.] I can’t always be the one to keep track of everything. Come on, you knew I had to study for this exam and you’re already done with all of yours. [Angry, almost yelling.] I mean really dude?

Neha: Whoa whoa whoa man. Don’t be such a Psycho Brahe. It might not even be spoiled. You know that’s only the sell by date, it’s not necessarily the expiration date.

Andrea: [Calmed, but still annoyed.] No I bet it’s bad.

Neha: You won’t know until you taste it.

Narrator: Copenhagen interpretation. It states that measuring causes the calculated set of probabilities of a state, the wave-function, to collapse into one value. In this case, the milk could be sour or fresh, but we cannot know for sure until we taste it.

Andrea: Hell no, I am not tasting milk that could be spoiled. You can taste it.

Neha: Fine, just put it back into the fridge. I’ll drink it later.

Andrea puts the milk back in the refrigerator and eats her dry Cheerios while joining Neha on the couch.

Lights out.

SCENE 3

Before the lights come up, Andrea stands inside the room, just in front of the closed door to the hallway. Lights up. Andrea stands still a moment then says:

Andrea: Hey.

Neha jumps up, having not heard the door move, and turns to look at Andrea.

Neha: What the F equals M-A! Dude, you scared the Schadt out of me.

Andrea: Sorry.

Neha sits back on the couch while Andrea goes to the microfridge and grabs a box of Cheerios from above the microwave. She then walks over to get a bowl from her desk.

Neha: How’d you get in? I thought you texted me you lost your keys?

Narrator: Quantum tunneling. Because of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, there is a very small probability of a particle’s positions being across a barrier, and thus sometimes a particle with a lower kinetic energy can “overcome” a barrier with a higher potential energy. This phenomenon occurs inside the sun. The energy of two nuclei colliding is not enough to overcome the potential energy of the barrier (the electrostatic force repelling two positively charged nuclei). Yet we know this barrier is overcome because the collision of such nuclei is how photons (light) is created. In our case, Andrea passed through the door without opening it.

Andrea: [Looking around.] What?

Neha: How’d you get in?

Andrea: Didn’t you hear that? Someone said “Andrea”.

Neha: Hear what?

Andrea: Whatever. [Andrea goes to pour a bowl of Cheerios.] Is the milk spoiled?

Neha: [Sitting back down on the couch.] I’m not sure. Why don’t you check?

Andrea opens the refrigerator and begins drinking the milk.

Narrator: Wave-function collapse. Earlier I told you about the Copenhagen interpretation, that we couldn’t know for sure about the state of the milk until we took a measurement. When prompted by Neha, Andrea measured the status of the milk and the probability of possible outcomes, spoiled or fresh, collapsed to the definite value of spoiled.

Andrea spits the milk out in an exaggerated, comedic fashion.

Andrea and Neha: What?

They look at each other shocked and puzzled.

Neha: Is the milk bad?

Andrea: No. I mean, yes. But, didn’t you say Andrea?

Neha: No. I thought I heard you say Neha and something about spoiled milk.

Andrea: I didn’t say anything.

Andrea looks out over the audience and becomes frightened. She puts the bowl down on the microfridge and walks slowly over to the couch.

Andrea: [Whisper.] We’re being watched.

The house lights go up and the speaker becomes illuminated as well. Andrea and Neha no longer freeze when the Narrator speaks.

Narrator: Double-slit experiment. [Andrea and Neha look for the source of the voice. The Narrator goes on like nothing has happened.] Electrons were recorded as behaving like waves and particles when shot through two slits. But, when scientists observed one slit to closely see how they pass through, they behaved only like particles. The observer collapses the wave function just by observing.

Andrea and Neha look frightened at the Narrator and the audience.

Neha: [to Andrea] Why is he talking about wave functions?

Andrea: More like why are these people watching us? [Looking around. Desperate.] Oh God, maybe we should clean. This place is a mess.

Neha: [Looking down at her attire.] And I probably look like a slob in these pajamas.

Neha runs into her bedroom to change. Andrea throws the sour milk in the trash and starts cleaning up papers on her desk.

Narrator: In our case, two Princeton undergrads can behave like clean adults or slobs. When being observed by peers, professors, or potential employers, they clean up their act.

Neha runs out wearing jeans and a collared shirt and begins helping Andrea clean. Periodically they smile at the audience.

Lights out.

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