Professor Maria Del Carmen Monrreal Ferreira was only a young graduate student when she moved from her native Argentina to Pittsburgh to pursue her studies in astrophysics, specializing in local conformal space-time disturbances. The exotic phenomenon, long predicted by Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity but unknown in nature, would soon become the whale to her Captain Ahab, as she spent half a career deep in the bowels of the University of Pittsburgh’s Allen Hall building studying spectroscopic data from the world’s observatories, all to no avail. Then, one fateful morning, everything changed.
“I was running late for a meeting,”
explains the Regent Square resident and occasional amateur horticulturalist,
“so instead of cycling down Forbes Avenue like I usually do, I decided to drive, taking the Parkway to the Bates Street exit. Because I thought it would be faster.”
It was just after the Braddock Avenue on-ramp that the keen observer of all things physics-related noticed the space-time bubble that would make her career, located just in front of the entrance to the tunnels. As she herself puts it:
“From the perspective of an observer outside the bubble, everything inside seems to inexplicably slow down by a factor of two, with one second appearing to take two seconds, or, to put it another way, 60mph seeming to be 30mph.”
Being a skeptical scientist used to the most rigorous standards of logic and empirical evidence, the Professor at first refused to believe that the phenomenon she had spent decades searching the heavens for would be found here in the city’s East End just under a mile from where she lay her head every night. But a detailed examination of the area confirmed her tentative hopes.
“It’s just a well lit tunnel with two open lanes, and no reason whatsoever for traffic to feel impeded in any way.”
Her confidence that this was something beyond everyday comprehension was bolstered further by the fact that, while people complained about everyone slowing down in front of the tunnels, those very same people swear they don’t slow down themselves, which is consistent with the relativistic theory which states that time always flows normally in one’s own frame of reference.
“As the great made-up detective Sherlock Holmes would say, once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”
She quickly published her observations, which perfectly fit the prevailing theoretical framework, once all the ad hoc variables were suitably adjusted. Some details remain intriguingly unexplained as yet. In addition to slowing down time, the cosmic disruption also causes the brake-lights of the vehicles to become energized.
“Presumably it’s related to some vacuum excitation effect inducing transient electrical currents that we have yet to fully comprehend. I know it’s definitely not people hitting their brakes when they approach the tunnel, because I asked them.”
Since then other research groups have confirmed the existence of the very same phenomenon in the vicinity of the Crab Nebula, 6,500 light years away from Earth, as well as somewhere in New Jersey. But the one in lower Squirrel Hill will always remain closest to this physicist’s heart, both for sentimental reasons, and because it provides such a pristine example for ongoing study.
“As deformations in the space-time continuum go, this one is remarkably stable.”
She is especially thankful than in addition to advancing our understanding of the theoretical foundation of the universe, this discovery may help her fellow city residents in the course of their daily lives. Much like prehistoric cave dwellers who had to invent fantastical explanations for thunder and lightning in lieu of proper meteorological knowledge, so too did Pittsburgh develop its own mythology surrounding the cosmological defect atop its main thoroughfare, leading to such invocations as the Tunnel Monster, which has been used to scare young children for a generation.
“Pittsburghers can now accept this phenomenon for the gravitational artifact that it is and stop being so incredibly angry about it.”
When asked what she plans to work on next, the Professor says she will search for tangible evidence of dark matter, the theorized substance that serves no purpose except to exert a huge drag on everything around it, which she hopes to find near the Pleiades Star Cluster, or along the Mon-Fayette Expressway.