The Soupster runs into Avogadro’s Number.
Originally published October 16, 2003
“Ouch,” said the Soupster, as Dr. Gwen pulled on his arm to examine the skin above his elbow. “Don’t yank it off, Doc!”
“You’re a baby,” chided Dr. Gwen, hiking up the Soupster’s sleeve to get a better look. “But I’m glad you came to see me. Moles can signal something far more serious and should be checked by a professional.”
“What about mine?” the Soupster asked, obviously worried.
“You’re fine,” Dr. Gwen said. “It’s just a mole.”
“Whew,” exclaimed the Soupster.
Dr. Gwen chuckled. “You ‘re reminding me of a squirmy old patient from the Lower 48, Soupster,” she said. “In fact, you kind of look like him.”
“You know my theory,” said the Soupster, and Dr. Gwen nodded patiently.
“Every kind of person there is in the world is represented in Our Town,” the Soupster said. “Everyone in Our Town has a bunch of duplicates running around the world.”
“Everybody in the world, ” Dr. Gwen repeated.
“There are 9,000 people in Our Town, every one of them completely different,” the Soupster said, “And there can’t be more than 9,000 kinds of people in the world.”
“There’s 6 billion on Earth at present,” said Gwen. “That means 666,666.6 times as many people in the world as there are in Our Town. Each Our Towner then, is represented by more than half a million duplicates. Don’t you think you’d run into at least one of them on vacation?”
“Sounds likely,” the Soupster. “That is a lot of people — like a ‘mole’ of people — not like the mole on my arm, but the chemistry term – that’s a ‘mole’ too, isn’t it, Doc?”
“It is,” she answered. “A mole in chemistry is defined as the aggregate of 6.02 times 10 to the 23rd power — that’s 6.02 with 23 zeroes after it. But the number of people on Earth – 6 billion** — is only 6 times 10 to the ninth power — only nine zeroes after it. A mole of people would be 100 trillion times the number of people on Earth today. A hundred trillion times six billion people.”
“Wow, a mole is a lot of something, isn’t it?” asked the Soupster.
“Not always,” said Dr. Gwen. “A mole is a lot of units. But if those units are small — like molecules? For instance, see that half-filled bottle of hydrogen peroxide on the shelf? A mole of hydrogen peroxide molecules would weigh in at 34 grams. About an ounce.”
“Then, there’s the moles with big claws for digging underground,” the Soupster remarked idiotically.
“And moles can also be spies in the CIA or KGB,” Doc Gwen said, finishing her exam. “But the moles in chemistry are definitely more distinguished than those that grow on your arm or the ones that dig in the ground or infiltrate spy networks.”
“Why do you say that?” the Soupster asked.
“Among the four types of moles, only chemistry-type moles have their own holiday,” Doc Gwen said. “October 23 is Mole Day. It’s true. Look it up!”
**Ed. Note: When this Our Town was first published in 2003, the pop. of earth was six billion. Today, it is 7.7 billion.