Physics is an exacting science with a penchant for conformity. Constants, constraints and renormalisation (the latter being there to take care of conformity) feature highly in its progress. Thus progress is slow, even if the Particle Zoo is filling up, and the mysteries of quantum behaviour show themselves to be increasingly erratic as the greatest of human minds continue to struggle with conundrums.
Take Duality. Wave-particle duality, for precision's sake - something we are all part of and party to. You can't say that a particle is wave-and-particle at the same time, but living things are somehow excluded from that law. This aspect of physics tells us in stiff terms that every second of being alive is filled with infinite potentials, and whatever we do with our nanoseconds is just another quantum leap into what we are destined to become. The photon fired at the double-slit can't have known in advance that someone was going to fire it, but it reacted regardless and accordingly blew the minds of the scientific community-at-large.
Then there's Non-locality. This concept asserts powerful connections irrespective of distance. When I first set out on the quantum trail, I had an idea that this idea was important but no idea it would come to be a feature of my existence. Here's my own take on it. Many people reading this will have similar stories to share, and right now I feel it's time we were all sharing them, for bringing quantum principles into play in real life has surely a lot to do with our social and spiritual evolution. Science has to take a lead - it has all the tools to do so neatly lined up at its disposal, but the love of science seems to have blinded itself to the bigger picture.
Physics and metaphysics may best be described as two sides of the same coin, but in fact the sides are interchangeable and quantum physics applies itself stringently to insisting this to be the case. However much a scientist is wedded to the science, there's a grave and urgent need for someone whose mind is free from the constants and constraints (even if just for a few hours!) to come up with a new description of the quantum fractal field, the pattern of the tapestry in which we all exist, so that we can collectively make more sense of our existence and improve its quality (the Quality of Life) by so doing. The truth is out there, and it's in somebody's hands right now...
A Horizon documentary on Dark Energy raised a smile for its confessions as much as anything else, in liberating Dark Matter to be all around us, after all - not just some stuff out there rolling galaxies around with invisible fingertips. And that we (as the species collective) still have no idea what it is.
There are lots of contenders. WIMPs (yes, there really are - check the link!) and sterile neutrinos, WINOs (yes, there are those too in the Particle Zoo) and shadow photons have all had a look-in on the theoretical experiments, but nothing - absolutely nothing - has landed in any of the complex (and extremely expensive) contraptions laid out to catch a particle of matter being Dark.
In addition to the conundrum of DM contenders, there is the small matter of travelling through a new quarter of the Universe as our galaxy slides into uncharted terrain, bombarded by X-waves which are also a bit misty on the identity front. In ending the Horizon documentary, the narrative finished with a plea for help. "It could be you," said the narrator, campaigning to uncover the next Einstein. "We need another Einstein," scientists are saying. Perhaps we need a thinker with a completely different approach to a Physics currently constrained by constants and constraints, relying on renormalisation (cheating) to make its maths work and rigorously fusing itself to theories that have been tried and trusted for a long time.
Thousands of young scientists out there are thinking about the quantum world right now, while dozens of TV dramas and advertised products seem desperate to slide Quantum into the title. Quantum is becoming a fashion statement. Like Infinity (another hot contender for media attention), Quantum has issues. That shouldn't stop the bright young thing destined to break symmetry from coming up with what Dark Matter is (and by default, how we relate to it.) And when they do, we shall all be very glad to cheer and clap, while other bright sparks of a different generation yell loudly from the corner, "Oh no, it isn't!" While the Punch and Judy show goes on, I'll be here to grab the Petrino when it appears.
Kathy Ratcliffe has studied quantum mechanics since 1997, leads a life surrounded by birds and animals, and is a stalwart fan of Stargate SG1.