Schrödinger's Eggs
Alice Whittenburg
Virgin Galactic has offices here in Las Cruces, and many of my students are fascinated by the nearby spaceport. Ana Sofia was one of them, and she wanted to work for Sir Richard Branson as an engineer. Unfortunately, like Branson's early spaceships, Ana's plans never quite left the ground. Though she was ready and willing, and she excelled in my physics class, origami proved to be her downfall. That was the year Congress passed the BOWSER Act (Ban On Women in Science, Engineering, and Research), but Ana sabotaged herself before she left high school.

The instructions for our final physics project were simple: Use ten sheets of typewriter paper to construct a protective covering for a raw egg so that it will not break when dropped from a height of ten feet.

Ana's hobby was origami, and she was so confident in her knowledge of physics and her skill with paper that she didn't begin to work on her project until the evening before it was due. She described folding nests and boxes, boats and rockets, but none of them did the job. Then around 4:00 a.m. she folded a white cat. It was posed in a graceful crouch -- tail curved, ears erect, jaws half-open, its face blank and secretive.

The first time Ana put a raw egg in that cat's mouth and dropped it from a stepladder, the cat landed on its feet and the egg simply vanished. This happened a couple more times, but on the fourth trial, the egg was preserved intact. After a dozen more successful trials, she decided she was ready.

Ana arrived at school just as I was setting up the ladder for the drop. We watched as some students came away with unbroken eggs, while others saw their eggs scrambled. When it was Ana's turn, she put an egg in the origami cat's mouth and dropped it from the ladder, but afterward we could find no trace of the egg. She tried many times, but I finally had to disqualify Ana because the eggs could not be found to see if they were whole or broken.

Ana tearfully told me about her successful trials at home, and I tried to cheer her with a joke about Schrödinger's cat eating Schrödinger's eggs. She said, "That’s it, Mr. Macintosh! I’ll research quantum physics on the macro level!" It was then that I realized she would never leave origami behind her.

As the years have passed, I occasionally hear from Ana. Sometimes she complains about BOWSER, but in my opinion it was origami that defeated her. Sadly, she lives with a menagerie of paper animals and an enormous egg bill that she cannot afford to pay.  

First published: May 2017
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