Universe in a Bottle
Amrita, Age 13, CA

The bell tinkled as I opened the door. 

“Kiddo, back again?” Bill looked amused.

‘I’m looking for Marvel comics,” I said.

I headed to the back and found a first edition.

Back home, I flipped through the book. I had stopped to grab some Oreos, when an advertisement in the back caught my eye. In tiny print, it said, “Universe in a bottle. Build your own universe using our amazing kit! Call today. Only $19.99.” I got my snack and went back to reading, but eventually curiosity got the better of me. I called the number in the ad and got a message that the number didn’t exist. I decided to do an Internet search for the toy. To my surprise, it was available on eBay! Someone cleaning their attic had found the toy, and put it up for sale: “An original toy, never been used, box unopened. Only $9.99.” I went downstairs.

“Mom?”

“Yes, Zach?”

“I found something cool on eBay: a Universe in a Bottle. Can I buy it?”

“Is it a video game?”

“No, Mom, it’s a building kit. You can build your own universe in a bottle.”

My mom seemed hesitant for a moment, but agreed when I persisted.

The package arrived two weeks later.

Inside was a box with a faded picture of a solar system inside a glass bottle. There was writing on the box in Japanese and at the bottom a single phrase in English that said, “Universe in a Bottle.” For a moment I felt disappointed, thinking it was probably some lame toy. Opening the box, I discovered tiny glass vials, a set of sachets containing various chemicals, and an electronic unit with a crude LED display and buttons and wires. There was a wide mouthed glass bottle and a large lid with a connector on the outside and a holding base for the vials on the inside. To my dismay, the instructions were mostly in Japanese, but there were illustrations. A warning in poorly translated English read, “Caution! Do not make explosion! Correctly use amounts.” Following the illustrations, I carefully measured chemicals into the vials, adding water to some of them, and attached the vials in the correct order to the inside lid of the bottle. Next, I had to program instructions into the electronic unit. I entered the values of “pi” and the gravitational constant. I left the other values at default settings. Attaching the lid to the bottle, I plugged the connector to the outside lid of the bottle and connected the electronic unit to an outlet. Finally, I pushed the “START” button. At first, nothing happened, and then…a huge bang and electric sparks! Seconds passed. I waited in nervous anticipation. Then, a milky cloud formed inside. I watched fascinated.

The bottle stayed like that. Finally I tired of staring at it and went to bed.
I woke to a surprise. The clouds had disappeared and several tiny translucent bubbles were floating in the bottle. I stared captivated but had to leave for school.
After school, my friend Seth came over to my place. He saw the bottle in my room and thought it was cool. I told him all about it. He wondered if I could add life to the “universe.” Then we got around to playing video games.

Seth’s question set me thinking. I went online and found a few links to a forum about Japanese games from the 1970s. I posted a question in English on adding life to the “universe.” Several days passed and I heard nothing. Meanwhile some of the bubbles in the bottle had solidified and were spinning.

Then one day, I was surprised to receive a response from an anonymous user who had uploaded instructions in badly translated English.

I followed the instructions as best as I could. I checked the bottle every day, but couldn’t tell if life was forming. Strangely, the “planets” appeared to be getting smaller. Eventually, I had to use a magnifying glass to see them. One day I couldn’t see anything and the bottle seemed empty. Worried, I had done something wrong, I went back to the instructions in the box and found mention of a Dr. Tozoku Moratzi, professor of cosmology at Tokyo University. The kit was inspired by his work. I found his Wikipedia page. My heart leaped as I read a brief mention of the toy, “Universe in a Bottle”. Around thirty-seven years ago, a Japanese toymaker, Majinto, built a kit based on Dr. Moratzi’s theories. The toy was not a success. Majinto eventually went out of business.

I wrote an email to the professor.

Dear Dr. Moratzi,
I bought an unused kit for “Universe in a Bottle”. I built the universe and saw the planets start to form and also spin. Then they grew smaller and disappeared. Has something gone wrong?
Thanks,
Zach Johnson


Three days later...

Dear Zach,
I am Dr. Moratzi’s secretary. He’s in poor health but answered your question. The planets have not disappeared. They are moving farther away as the universe expands. The bottle isn’t empty but filled with dark matter.
Hope this helps,
Sawako Hayakawa


I was somewhat relieved, but something troubled me. I was unsure if the instructions for forming life had worked. I sent another email.

Dear Ms. Hayakawa,
Thanks for responding. I followed the attached instructions for forming life. Please ask Dr. Moratzi if they worked.
Zach Johnson


A week later...

Dear Zach,
I am sad to inform you that Dr. Moratzi passed away yesterday. In his final days, he was in a coma. We asked your question, and he nodded. Your first email made Dr. Moratzi happy. He thought you might be the first to have success with the kit.
Sawako Hayakawa


The bottle stands on my table. My mom wants to throw it away but I won’t let her. When I am troubled, I stare at the bottle, and think of something out there, slowly drifting away. I am filled with wonder, mystery, and hope.

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