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By JENNIFER OUELLETTE

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For centuries scientists have debated whether light is a particle or a wave; today we know it is neither, although it has properties of both, like an actor who moonlights as a waiter on the side, or who really just wants to direct. It travels in a straight line like a stream of particles, but it can also diffuse outward like a wave. Anyone who has taken a basic science class knows that light is made of packets of energy, called photons. But this energy doesn’t just spring fully formed from the void, like Athena from the head of Zeus; it has to come from somewhere.

The notion dates back to Aristotle, and anyone who has dropped a rock and a piece of paper at the same time has observed that the rock will hit the ground first. But this is due not to how much either object weighs, but to friction caused by the presence of air. The air exerts more friction on Pubert than on the cannonball because the baby has more surface area. This slows Pubert’s fall, and the cannonball hits the ground first. Had the Addams siblings conducted their experiment in a vacuum, there would have been no air resistance and both baby and cannonball would have hit the ground at the same time, despite the 10-pound difference in weight.

Gomez Addams applies a similar accelerating force when he throws knives at Uncle Fester or hurls darts at a board held by Lurch. This effect must be balanced against the mass of an object: the more mass an object has, the greater the force required to get it moving and the more slowly it will accelerate. The Addams family’s hearse will accelerate more slowly with the entire family onboard than it would if it held just Lurch. These two factors make it possible to calculate how much force is required to move any given object.

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Black Bodies and Quantum Cats - Tales of Pure Genius and Mad Science by JENNIFER OUELLETTE


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