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Einstein's Lenses: The Crime Scene



Part One - The Crime Scene


This world that we were born into can seem bleak at times. Everybody has points, moments, that stretch them until they feel they might break. And in these moments we look for new ways to view the world. There is an expression about rose tinted glasses. If you are lucky, you might find a pair to allow you to view the world, an ugly world, as its more beautiful counterpart. Rose tinted glasses can come in many forms. For some people it could be yoga, cooking, seeing their kids... but for Dr. Finch it was her research. When she found herself sad or struggling to find meaning in the world, she would instead attempt to understand how electrons and nuclei, gluons and quarks came together to form the universe in front of us. She had a simple life and a good community of people she worked with. And that's why it was surprising, that right now, at this very moment, detective Rigby Zinq was staring at her cold dead corpse.

Looking around the crime scene, it was as if the person that had broken in was trying to take apart a toy or a clock and put it back together again. Not Dr. Finch herself thankfully, but her office. There were fingerprints everywhere, but the fingerprints weren't in any databases. This person had been sloppy, as if they had no fear of getting caught. Detective Zinq was not a physicist. She was part of the homicide unit on Diem Deus 3, a registered artificial moon of Saturn and had been part of this unit for the past 4 years. She enjoyed looking for patterns. Remembering when she used to look up at the sky on Earth as a kid, watching birds coming together to form v shapes. She enjoyed social patterns in particular. Collective behavior.

Whoever did this was clearly looking for something. Probably something that might help them make money, gain prestige... there is always a motive of course, but it wasn't quite clear yet what that motive might be.

"What do you think about this Chief?" asked Rigby's partner Joe.

She stood there with what looked to be an almost cube shaped piece of metal in her hand. They had found it clutched between the dead woman's hands. It appears that just before she died she must have gone to get it and kept it close as she passed away.

"What do you think this is?" said Rigby.

Joe shrugged and shook his head.

Rigby then asked "Well, have you been able to wrap up the impression details of the scene? Have you captured the material evidence?"

"We are wrapping it up. It should only be a few more hours, and you will be able to access it in the virtual replica sim." replied Joe.

"There are a lot of details in this room. I'm gonna need to be able to read through them to sort out this mess. Be careful to copy all the files on her computer and scan in all the papers. We will also want to call in a couple experts. See if we can get ahold of some of her colleagues to try and sort this out." Rigby said firmly.

"Yep. Sounds good. We have been going through her phone records and her emails to form a recent contacts list." Joe confirmed.

The detective was thinking about the cube in the dead woman's hands. She needed to think about some of the other things she had seen, but that image was stuck in her head. She decided to head home for the day. She was four months pregnant and looking forward to getting off her feet and home to her husband. Her husband was a geriatric nurse at one of the larger local hospitals.

She was thinking about his schedule and realized that tonight was recreation night for his patients. They were going on virtual tours of newly terraformed parts of the solar system. Being honest with herself, she was a bit jealous thinking she hadn't even seen them. Then again her work had been keeping her quite busy recently, and there was a baby on the way.

She was excited to be a mother, thinking about baby rooms, books, the kinds of things she would want to inspire her child with. Soon she would be taking maternity leave. Everything would change. "No hay color." she thought to herself. Her mind drifted back to that cube that was stuck in her head. The way forward was unclear to her.

She got a phone call from her partner just as the smell of lavender salts were coming up from the hot water she was preparing for a bath.

Joe said in a rush, "So, I think we found something pretty interesting. We've been able to unlock a research journal of Dr. Finch's and I think you might want to take a look."

"Send it over to my sim." replied Rigby.

She initiated the simulator. The journal had a plain black cover. She took a look inside and started thumbing through it. She smiled when she felt the baby flutter. In some recent entries, Dr. Finch frequently referred to something called "Einstein's Lenses". She found some earlier references in the journal to it and was uncertain what it meant. She put the journal down. She began thinking about Einstein and how our knowledge of gravity has come such a long way since he discovered the theory of general relativity. There had been many interesting theoretical and experimental advances. Although the late Dr. was mostly into theoretical physics, she dabbled in experimental work as well. She imagined, although she was not sure why, that the cross between the two would be important to uncovering the cause behind her sudden and untimely death.

She already knew the first person she wanted to interview—someone from a previous case—a research scientist with a penchant pour le macabre. Right after initiating voice dial, surprisingly, the recipient picked up. Although, she didn't initially say anything.

Rigby began, "Hey, how are you?"

"Hey hi yeah sure. What is it that you are looking for this time. Somebody die?" said Casey.

"Yes, a quite unusual sort of case. It doesn't make much sense yet to me. I'd like to send you a journal." said Rigby.

Casey sounded a bit more upbeat. "OK, definitely. I'll take a look at it."

"The recently deceased owner of that journal often mentions "Einstein's Lenses" in there and I don't really understand what that means. I figured you might be able to make sense of it." Explained Rigby.

"Well looking really quickly it looks like she worked in string theory but it's hard to say.. some kind of research in quantum gravity. " Casey said as she glanced at the pages.

"This case does not seem to be an easy one. There doesn't seem to be any witnesses and their fingerprints weren't in the database. " said Rigby.

"Has that ever happened on one of the moons?" exclaimed Casey.

After a pause, Rigby replied "Not to my knowledge... I don't know how it would be possible and they don't seem like fakes. They definitely were sloppy in some ways. Not sure what it means. I need to get some leads on this. I'm not sure what to do yet, to be honest. Understanding what's in that journal should be useful though."

"OK, I'll take a look." Casey immediately hung up.

After the call, Rigby could still smell the lavender. She got in the bath and made some tea with rose hips and orange peels. She fell asleep before her husband got home.

Rigby got a call again early the next morning.

Casey picked up where they left off. "OK, so I said yesterday that her work is about quantum gravity, and this concept about Einstein's Lenses seems to have something to do with holography, which comes out of string theory."

"Good morning to you, too. So what does holography do?" asked Rigby.

"Yes, good morning. I hope you slept very well. Now, this Dr. Finch's concept for Einstein's lenses is a bit of a stretch, but what happens is say you could imagine, say you had some way of re-examining ordinary material like your watch in front of you, when you look through it through a particular lens, this lens would show you a dual gravitational description." Casey explained.

"What do you mean a dual gravitational description?" asked Rigby.

"A long time ago in the 1920's people came up with some kind of quantum mechanical description of matter. We know that subatomic particles have descriptions where they interact with one another on this microscopic scale and for a long time connecting the quantum world with gravity has been problematic, but it turns out there is a duality that exists out of quantum gravity and essentially normal matter with some purely quantum mechanical description admits a second equivalent description that includes gravity." explained Casey.

"OK." said Rigby.

Casey then went further. "It looks like she had a number of applications to real world strongly correlated electronic systems. Holography has some implications for black holes and early universe stuff but mostly she focuses, I mean focused, on these applications as a tool for condensed matter. Long story short, she uses holography to investigate these materials because sometimes thinking about it in a gravitational description is easier to work with."

Rigby was at a bit of a loss for words. "So essentially... right... anything on your radar for why this might be important? Is this method of research lucrative in some way in industry or something?"

"Not sure. I can help you a bit with understanding the background physics, but I'm not sure how helpful I'll be with the motivations. Especially not if I can't see the crime scene." Casey said in a provocative manner.

Rigby could just see the smirk on her face behind the phone call.

"Oh god. You know I can't let you do that again. You know how hard it was for full access last time?" said Rigby.

"But it would be fun! It could be interesting. I was able to help you solve the last one...that wasn't so bad." Casey was begging at this point.

"Alright I might be able to. Maybe next time we can take a look at the full sim together, but no promises!" Rigby was going to let her see it.

"Yes, Ma'am. Understood. No promises." The grin still firmly in place.


In the story above, we explore physics through the eyes of Rigby Zinq as she attempts to solve a murder. This post belongs to a collection of works called Einstein's Lenses.

Be sure to check out the physics behind this holographic murder mystery in the behind the scenes blog post for Einstein's Lenses: The Crime Scene. This blog post is also available as a podcast, as read by the author, Erin Blauvelt. Image credit for Einstein's Lenses - first ever image of a black hole captured by the Event Horizon Telescope.

Author: Erin Blauvelt

PhD Candidate

Lehigh University


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