Origin of Spin
I turn in awe towards the sun rising over the mountain on this summer's day. I turn to the mystery of motion: the white-eyed vireo circling back and forth, building its nest close to the ground by a bent of bluebells along a seasonal stream.
At the subatomic level, all of nature spins. Atoms are tiny assemblages of splendor, working to materialize our world.
In quantum physics, the hydrogen atom is the model for understanding the behavior of matter. Hydrogen is in every living thing on Earth. It is the most basic element: one electron, one proton, no neutron. The proton is the nucleus and the electron's anchor.
The white-eyed vireo, off through the trees, marking the air into shapes,
close to its nest.
1925. Goudsmit and Uhlenbeck show that the electron spins on its axis in either direction.
The vireo flies a little east and west, sometimes north and south, keeping
a watchful eye on the brown-headed cowbird about to steal its nest.
Hydrogen, nature's lightest element, is the standard by which all other elements are measured. Its atomic mass unit is 1.0080.
The vireo is approximately 5 inches long and weighs 10-13 grams.
On tiny breaths of wind, it becomes buoyant little by little.
The hydrogen electron travels at approximately 2,200 kilometers per second. This is equivalent to circling the earth in 18 seconds.
The vireo's short direct flight through scrub is of rapid wing beats.
1923. Louis de Broglie proposes that the electron has wave properties.
The wings of the vireo in flight inscribe undulations in the air.
The wave pattern of the electron, moving at a high speed, creates a density cloud about the nucleus. The concentrated area represents the probable location of the electron.
The vireo forages along the thick forest floor, but often gives itself away
by the startling white irises of its eyes.
1927. Werner Heisenberg publishes his paper on the uncertainty principle: the more precisely the position of an electron is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known, and vice-versa.
Although the vireo sings vociferously, with many hints as to its location,
it is hard to find: its "chick-a-per-wee-oo-chick" carries far from where
it can be placed.
When the hydrogen electron travels from ground state, the lowest energy level, to the next higher energy level, it absorbs energy as a photon of light. Each progressive higher energy level of the electron requires photons of particular wavelengths. These wavelengths are associated with certain colors of light.
The male vireo is identifiable by its olive gray back; white breast;
pale yellow sides and flanks; pale yellow spectacles; two white
wing bars on dark wings; white iris. The female is similar.
Fledglings are duller with darker irises.
As the electron falls to a lower energy level, it emits a photon of light. The released energy equals the amount the electron originally absorbed when it jumped to a higher level. The electron follows the law of conservation of energy.
A vireo soars in thermal warm air, using less power during its migratory
flight from the Bahamas to North America.
The electron prefers to spend much of its time in ground state.
Beneath the weight of stars, the vireo settles in its nest.
Nature is charged motion. It is more convincing when you turn with it. Where mountain meets sky, where bird meets corridors of light. Imagination is a form of turning one way or another. Turn to the night sky. Imagine the center of the Milky Way spinning one hundred and forty miles per second as it hauls itself through space. Turn quickly to a giant hydrogen cloud where innumerable new suns are falling through space.
deep inside the nest
the faint crack of an egg