Last year, the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to three scientists for their pioneering experiments in quantum mechanics, the theory that spans the world of particles, atoms and particles.
Scientists Alain Aspect (France), John Clauser (USA) and Anton Zellinger (Austria) share the $915,000 prize money, “for conducting experiments on photon entanglement, demonstrating a violation of (Bell’s mathematical inequality), and pioneering the science of Quantitative or quantum information,” according to what was published by the “Science Alert” website.
The world of quantum mechanics is a very strange world. In school, we were taught that we can use equations in physics to predict exactly how things will behave in the future; Where would the ball go if we rolled it down a hill, for example…
Quantum mechanics is different from this. Instead of predicting individual results, it tells us the probability of finding subatomic particles in particular locations. Or the particle could be in several places at the same time, before “choosing” one location at random when measured.
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Even Albert Einstein, the great scientist, was so disturbed by this – that he was convinced it was wrong, and that rather than the results being random, he thought there must be some “hidden variables” – forces or laws we can’t see – which predictably affect the results of our measurements
But some physicists have embraced the consequences of quantum mechanics. John Bell, a physicist from Northern Ireland, made an important breakthrough in 1964, devising a theoretical test to show that the hidden variables Einstein had in mind did not exist.
According to quantum mechanics, particles can be so eerily “entangled” and connected that if you manipulate one, you automatically and instantly manipulate the other.
If this fear — particles spaced apart mysteriously affecting each other instantaneously — were to be explained by particles communicating with each other through hidden variables, it would require faster-than-light communication between the two, which Einstein’s theories forbid.
Quantum entanglement is a difficult concept to grasp, as it essentially connects the properties of particles no matter how far apart they are. Imagine a lamp that emits two photons (particles of light) that travel in opposite directions away from it.
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If these photons are entangled, they can share a property, such as their polarization, no matter how far apart they are. Bell imagined experimenting with these two photons separately and comparing their results to prove that they are entangled
Clauser put Bell’s theory into practice at a time when experiments with single photons were almost unimaginable. In 1972, just eight years after Bell’s famous thought experiment, Clauser showed that light could indeed be entangled.
While Clauser’s results were groundbreaking, there were a few exotic alternative explanations for his results. If light doesn’t behave quite as physicists thought, perhaps its results can be explained without entanglement. These interpretations are known as loopholes in the Bell test, and Aspect was the first to challenge this
Aspect has devised an ingenious experiment to rule out one of the most important potential loopholes in the Bell test. showed that the photons entangled in the experiment do not, in fact, communicate with each other through hidden variables to determine the result of Bell’s test. This means that they are eerily connected
In science, it is very important to test concepts that we think are true. Few have played a more significant role in doing so than Aspect. Quantum mechanics has been tested again and again over the past century and has survived unscathed.
At this point, you might be forgiven for wondering why the behavior of the microscopic world matters, or that photons can become entangled. This is where Zellinger’s vision really shines
We harnessed our knowledge of classical mechanics to build machines, build factories, and usher in the Industrial Revolution. Knowledge of the behavior of electronics and semiconductors has led the digital revolution
But understanding quantum mechanics allows us to exploit it, to build devices capable of doing new things. In fact, many believe it will lead the next revolution in quantum technology
Quantum entanglement can be harnessed in computing to process information in ways that were not possible before. Detecting small changes in entanglement could allow sensors to detect objects more accurately than ever before
Zellinger’s work paved the way for the quantum technological revolution by showing how a series of entangled systems could be linked together to build the quantum equivalent of a net.
In our modern era, these applications of quantum mechanics are not science fiction. We have the first quantum computers. The Micius satellite uses entanglement to enable secure communications around the world. Quantum sensors are used in applications from medical imaging to submarine detection
Ultimately, the 2022 Nobel Prize Committee recognized the importance of the practical foundations for producing, manipulating, and testing quantum entanglement and the revolution helping to drive it.