Terrance stared himself in the eyes and realized with a sinking feeling in both of his stomachs that something had gone wrong. But how? How could he have duplicated himself?
He had thought everything through so thoroughly.
He had drawn the line graph just as he had been shown.
He had planned and planned until his head hurt and he was certain that he had anticipated everything.
Yet here he was, standing in front of himself. Again. Something had gone terribly wrong.
If this were a story in a book or movie, Terrance would have assumed it was merely one more failed attempt in a long line of such attempts to get this sort of story right. Even with his limited experience, he knew of at least a dozen books and movies that were popular enough to make millions while still getting the details all wrong. But he had done everything right. Or so he had thought, but this was neither a book nor a movie and the proof that his planning had gone terribly wrong was literally staring him in the face.
Of course, we are probably getting ahead of ourselves. For this to make any sense at all, we need to back up and start at the beginning of the story which was over half a year earlier. In fact, we should probably go even further back to an incident that took place over seven years earlier in Terrance’s fourth-grade science class, which made this blunder possible.
Mr. Schmidt had just finished demonstrating a gyroscope to the delight of Terrance’s entire fourth-grade class. It operated like an old-fashioned top with a string that had to be wrapped around the center rod and then quickly pulled out to make the middle disc spin rapidly. The result had amazed the class. It moved like a top but only the insides spun, while the outer frame seemed to defy gravity. Students took turns balancing it on their fingers and feeling how it resisted change. They all watched with fascination as it slowly pivoted on their fingers, tilted at steep angles to the floor while still refusing to fall.
After everyone had a turn, Mr. Schmidt set the gyroscope on his desk and proceeded to lecture about gravity, angular momentum, and some other more technical aspects of physics, with the hope that the time he had invested in the opening demonstration would be engaging enough to capture and hold everyone’s attention.
It did not.
One by one, students’ minds began to wander to thoughts of lunch and recess and other things of far greater importance to fourth-graders. There were only two exceptions by the time Mr. Schmidt wrapped up with, “Does anyone have any questions?”
One of those exceptions was a small, quiet boy in the front row. He had no intention of asking Mr. Schmidt any questions because he was more than three times smarter than any of the teachers in that school. This was a secret he had learned to conceal by being silent most of the time. He actually did have questions, but he already knew that they would be pointless to share with Mr. Schmidt. In fact, they would be pointless to share with most of the leading physicists in the world. So, he quietly watched and listened. And thought.
The other exception was Terrance Brown. He raised his hand and said, “I have a question,” and proceeded to ask it without waiting to be called on. “What would happen if you built a gyroscope out of magnets?”
“Excuse me?” responded Mr. Schmidt in an effort to stall, while he tried to wrap his mind around the question.
“Well,” Terrance continued, “The earth is basically a giant magnet that attracts everything—not just metal and other magnets. So, if a gyroscope with a spinning plastic disc will resist the earth’s gravity, then maybe adding magnetism to a gyroscope will add an extra level of resistance. Perhaps it could float.”
Mr. Schmidt stared at him as though Terrance had just declared that his grandmother was a small African parakeet named Bobo. The teacher’s mouth opened and closed as he tried to decide between offering an encouraging response or a belittling dismissive one. He decided on a combination. “What an interesting idea, Terrance. Perhaps you should consider something like that for this year’s science fair.” This was, of course, nonsense. Mr. Schmidt knew there were no fourth-graders in that school, or any school for that matter, capable of building a gyroscope out of magnets. He was almost correct. There was one exception—and that exception was intrigued by Terrance’s idea. It was an idea that would eventually change both of their lives forever.