Targeted Age Group: 8-12
Genre: Children’s science and nature
Inventing is messy business. When everything is said and done there will be all sorts of bits and bobs left over. In the perfect world these would be tidied away in an organized fashion. They may, after all, come in handy in the future.
Professor Kompressor was too busy to run a tidy ship. He moved from invention to invention like a moth flitting from lightbulb to lightbulb. Never really stopping to tidy things away. As a result, the inventing studio was in a terrible state.
There comes a point in every messy individual’s life, a critical point where drastic action is required.
The Professor was so far gone that something beyond drastic was needed. When he finally realized that he could not find anything in the inventing studio, let alone get in there in the first place, he made the decision.
“I have to tidy things away and get organized,” he thought with manifest dismay.
The Professor obviously did not go about this the normal way. Normal was boring and, as it tended to involve physical exercise, it made you tired as well. Professor Kompressor usually found unusual solutions to any given problem. In the current situation it was natural to consider making an automatic cleaning device, perhaps a robot of some kind. However, the Professor had been down that road before and he was not going that way again. He needed a better idea. It was not just the tidying up that was the problem. Where would he store everything he wanted to keep? And where would he put all the unwanted rubbish? There were too many questions and not enough answers.
The human brain is great at problem solving, but it does not always perform on command. It is often the case that the best ideas come when you are thinking about something else, or not really thinking at all. Professor Kompressor knew this. When he got stuck he often walked away, usually to the kitchen to make a cup of tea with the right amount of sugar and milk, trying to ignore the problem. Sometimes this allowed his brain to sneak up on the answer and catch it unaware.
The Professor decided that the obvious solution to the problem of the messy inventing studio involved taking Spot for a long walk. As soon as he called out, the little dog came bouncing with a vigorously waggling tail. Spot was not keen on thinking and inventions, but he loved action and walks. The messier the better.
The idea came to the Professor when he least expected it. There he was, meandering down one of the little country lanes, enjoying the beautiful spring sunshine. Desperately trying to stop Spot from jumping into every single watery ditch along the way. Then it struck him. At first the idea seemed a little bit mad, but it refused to go away. The more he thought about it, the more sense it made.
“Anyway,” he thought, “if at first an idea is not absurd, then there may be no hope for it.”
“Obviously…” he added after a while, even though he was not sure it made any sense.
Professor Kompressor’s idea was rubbish. Or rather, where to put it.
“Space is the solution,” he thought.
The idea was inspired by a television programme he had watched the night before. A documentary on the life of stars. The Professor had been fascinated by it.
“Imagine that,” he had thought to himself. “Stars live and die, just like people. And when they die they may have a very exciting afterlife. Small stars fade away, but heavier ones explode and sometimes form black holes. Holes in space. Seemingly made from nothing, but they are not nothing. Very curious, indeed.”
The moment he recalled thinking this, the idea came to him. It was all so simple.
What he needed was a black hole!
This was the perfect solution to his problem. Where better to hide your rubbish than a hole in space and time? Especially one where anything that went inside would be gone for ever. The Professor was clearly on to a winner here. This idea was too good not to work. Sure, he might have to violate a few so-called laws of physics to build it, but this was not going to stop him.
“You can get away with pretty much anything as long as no one finds out what you’re up to,” he decided, with a sly smile.
It was difficult to turn this idea into reality. After several days of thinking the Professor was exhausted. Every fibre in his brain was strained. He was tired… tired of being tired. This idea was beginning to wear him down. Inventing was beginning to seem almost like a real job.
Professor Kompressor decided it was time to seek professional help. After some deliberation he contacted his old mentor from college, Professor B.R. Ainsworth, an authority on matters of gravity. The Professor was happy to help, and sent the Professor a long research paper he had recently written on gravity and black holes. This was very kind, but unfortunately the article was all Greek to Professor Kompressor. Most of it seemed like technical gobbledygook with little practical use.
Decoding some of the funny language in Professor Ainsworth’s report, Professor Kompressor learned that space and time were not quite as flexible as he would have liked. He was also surprised to find that black holes were small. Absolutely tiny. A black hole weighing as much as the entire planet would only be the size of a marble. Much too small for what he had in mind. They were not easy to make either. You needed to cram a lot of stuff into a very small space. On top of everything it seemed that black holes could be quite dangerous. They had a tendency to swallow everything that came near. This was obviously exactly what the Professor was after, just right for a bin, but he realized that you really did not want to get too near to one of those things.
Even though this information made the Professor hesitate, it did not stop him. He was firmly of the opinion that there must be a practical solution to every problem. It might take some time, and require some imagination, but the answer would come to him. No need to worry.
As soon as the Professor stopped fretting, the insight came to him.
“This black hole thing is an illusion,” he decided. “You can’t see it anyway, so you might as well pretend it’s not there. As long as you don’t look too closely, what’s the difference?”
Professor Kompressor made good use of his ignorance. Once it was treated like an illusion, gravity became much more pliable. It could be bent more or less at will, so creating larger black holes that did not weigh quite as much was not that difficult.
Before acting on this insight, the Professor needed to solve one remaining problem. Once you have created a black hole, how do you keep it from swallowing everything within reach? This was tricky. He needed a cage of some sort, but how would such a thing work?
“Anti-gravity,” thought the Professor, “an anti-gravity cage. That’s what the situation calls for.”
“And it shouldn’t be too difficult either,” he added a few moments later.
“After all, anti-gravity is just gravity pointing the wrong way.”
“I need to make it push instead of pull,” he thought. “That’s the trick.”
Once he had it all worked out in his mind, the Professor only needed to iron out a few minor technical wrinkles. For once, he even thought about the safety of the construction. He needed to build the cage first so started thinking about the best way of doing this. He wanted a solution that was both neat and flexible.
“Anti-gravity paint! How come no one’s thought of this before?” he asked himself.
Professor Kompressor spent a couple of hours in the garden shed mixing the new kind of paint. It was delicate work because he had to make sure the ingredients were used in exactly the right proportion. He must not add too much of the repulsive agent. He had to get it just right if he wanted the device to work.
Finally, he was done. He left the buckets of paint outside to settle and went inside for an afternoon lie down.
A couple of hours later, the Professor returned to the job. He felt refreshed and well rested. He went outside, excited to test his revolutionary new paint.
At first he didn’t appreciate that something was wrong. Then it struck him. Something was missing. The paint! It was gone. The Professor’s first thought was that some of the kids from the village had played a prank on him. Then he had a moment of clarity.
“Oh, come on,” he groaned. “Aloysius, you fool! You really need to learn to think things through.”
In hindsight it was quite obvious. The moment the anti-gravity mixture settled it started working. No longer held down by gravity, the buckets of paint had simply floated away.
Cursing his thoughtlessness, the Professor went back to the shed to make another batch of the concoction. This time he would remember to leave it inside to settle.
Once the shielding paint was ready, Professor Kompressor used it to cover the metal cage he had prepared for his bin. It was basically a box without lid, safely screwed to the floor. This was a little bit unpractical as he would not be able to move it around, but the Professor had learned his lesson. Anti-gravity could be temperamental.
Once the box was finished he turned to the final phase of the project, the making of the black hole. He had to approach this carefully, because he could only have one go at it. If the black hole turned out too small, he would lose it immediately. If it ended up too big, it might swallow him. He decided not to think too much about this particular possibility.
Hoping for the best, Professor Kompressor started the black-hole making process. He followed his own written instructions very carefully. Step by step, he made sure everything happened in exactly the right order. It was tense work. When he was done he exhaled with relief, having held his breath for the last several minutes. He slumped down on the inventing chair. It took quite some time for his breathing to return to normal.
“Did it work?” he wondered as soon as he had calmed down. “Did I do it?”
He peeked into the box, but could not see anything. It seemed completely empty.
“Bother!” He cursed to himself. “There’s nothing there. I failed.”
Giving in to his frustration, the Professor threw a screwdriver at the invention. He missed the target, of course. He was an inventor, not an athlete. The screwdriver followed an arced trajectory over the bin.
Then something very peculiar happened. The flying object stopped mid air, hovered for a moment and then… with a loud plop it was sucked into the box.
“What?” thought the Professor.
Then it struck him. The invention worked. There was a black hole in the box, exactly as planned. He just could not see it, because… that is how black holes work. They are invisible. This insight made him so happy that he could not help himself. He started laughing.
It was a very pleased Professor that went to bed that evening. He was exhausted because it had been hard work but the end justifies the means, and in the end he had tamed gravity and built his own black hole. Quite some achievement. He slept soundly late into the next morning.
When the Professor woke up he was uncomfortable. The bedroom was hot and he was sweating profusely. He did not feel well at all. At first he thought he might have developed a fever, possibly from working too hard the previous day. He went to the bathroom to check his temperature. Normal. He concluded that the bedroom must have been hot. Perhaps it was an unseasonably warm day? He looked out through the window. The sky was grey and a light rain was falling. It looked cold and miserable. Certainly not warm.
On his way down the stairs the Professor realized that it was even hotter on the ground floor. The air in the kitchen was clammy, so he opened the window. Fresh cold air streamed in and made it easier to breath.
Professor Kompressor could not figure out what was going on. Without even stopping for a cup of tea to help him wake up properly, he continued to investigate. The living room was warm, but more comfortable than the kitchen. The inventing studio on the other hand…
When the Professor opened the door he was engulfed by heat. He still didn’t understand what was going on, but at least he knew where the heat came from. He forced his way into the room. It was steamy like a sauna.
It did not take the Professor long to locate the heat source. The new bin. It was radiating like anything. This was most unexpected. Professor Kompressor thought black holes were supposed to be cold. He decided to check with his friend Professor Ainsworth.
“Ah yes,” the Professor said as soon as the Professor explained what was happening. “I guess I should have thought of that. You see, my dear Aloysius, black holes are not completely black. They kind of radiate, although usually not very much.”
“By tinkering with the strength of gravity you seem to have affected this as well. Seems you’ve made yourself quite a power station there,” the Professor guffawed.
Professor Kompressor didn’t know what to think about this. On the one hand, he was pleased that his invention had added benefits, even if it was impossible to control the amount of heat that was released. At the same time, he was annoyed. He had meant to make a bin, not a radiator.
As he could not think of anything he could do about it, he went to work on a different project. This took his mind off the heat, but only for a while. Soon he was sweating uncontrollably. It was getting more and more difficult to focus on the fiddly construction on the desk in front of him. Sweat dripped from his forehead, making the glasses slide down his nose. He pushed them back, but they just started slipping again. He wiped his brow, but moments later it was covered by sweat.
Professor Kompressor could not help it. He was getting irritated. With a frustrated jerk he tried to shake the sweat off his brow. This did not work. Instead… the glasses slipped from his face and fell… towards the bin… and the black hole!
Instinctively, the Professor’s hand shot out to grab the disappearing spectacles. He could not see without them. He fumbled around in the hot air for a moment. Then… shocked by what he was doing, he pulled away. Losing balance he fell backwards on the floor, landing with a thump.
“You fool!” he shouted at himself while trying to figure out if his hand was still attached to his arm. It was.
“What are you thinking?” he continued, trying to wriggle the fingers on his right hand. He could.
“It’s a black hole, for goodness sake,” he finished, scolding himself.
He did not seem to be hurt, but the Professor could not recall that his nails had been quite that short before the incident.
“That was close,” he decided. “Too close for comfort.”
The near disaster made the Professor appreciate that the black hole bin was neither safe nor practical. He was a little bit too accident prone to keep such a device around. Even though it saddened him greatly he had to get rid of it. Fortunately, this was easy. He simply fixed a lid to the box, painted the entire thing with the anti-gravity paint and let it drift off. Into outer space. Where it belonged.
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