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  • richardmitnick 3:10 pm on August 31, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Quantum Mechanics   

    From Caltech: “Seeing Quantum Motion” 

    Caltech Logo
    Caltech

    08/28/2015
    Jessica Stoller-Conrad

    1
    Credit: Chan Lei and Keith Schwab/Caltech

    Consider the pendulum of a grandfather clock. If you forget to wind it, you will eventually find the pendulum at rest, unmoving. However, this simple observation is only valid at the level of classical physics—the laws and principles that appear to explain the physics of relatively large objects at human scale. However, uantum mechanics, the underlying physical rules that govern the fundamental behavior of matter and light at the atomic scale, state that nothing can quite be completely at rest.

    For the first time, a team of Caltech researchers and collaborators has found a way to observe—and control—this quantum motion of an object that is large enough to see. Their results are published in the August 27 online issue of the journal Science.

    Researchers have known for years that in classical physics, physical objects indeed can be motionless. Drop a ball into a bowl, and it will roll back and forth a few times. Eventually, however, this motion will be overcome by other forces (such as gravity and friction), and the ball will come to a stop at the bottom of the bowl.

    “In the past couple of years, my group and a couple of other groups around the world have learned how to cool the motion of a small micrometer-scale object to produce this state at the bottom, or the quantum ground state,” says Keith Schwab, a Caltech professor of applied physics, who led the study. “But we know that even at the quantum ground state, at zero-temperature, very small amplitude fluctuations—or noise—remain.”

    Because this quantum motion, or noise, is theoretically an intrinsic part of the motion of all objects, Schwab and his colleagues designed a device that would allow them to observe this noise and then manipulate it.

    The micrometer-scale device consists of a flexible aluminum plate that sits atop a silicon substrate. The plate is coupled to a superconducting electrical circuit as the plate vibrates at a rate of 3.5 million times per second. According to the laws of classical mechanics, the vibrating structures eventually will come to a complete rest if cooled to the ground state.

    But that is not what Schwab and his colleagues observed when they actually cooled the spring to the ground state in their experiments. Instead, the residual energy—quantum noise—remained.

    “This energy is part of the quantum description of nature—you just can’t get it out,” says Schwab. “We all know quantum mechanics explains precisely why electrons behave weirdly. Here, we’re applying quantum physics to something that is relatively big, a device that you can see under an optical microscope, and we’re seeing the quantum effects in a trillion atoms instead of just one.”

    Because this noisy quantum motion is always present and cannot be removed, it places a fundamental limit on how precisely one can measure the position of an object.

    But that limit, Schwab and his colleagues discovered, is not insurmountable. The researchers and collaborators developed a technique to manipulate the inherent quantum noise and found that it is possible to reduce it periodically. Coauthors Aashish Clerk from McGill University and Florian Marquardt from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light proposed a novel method to control the quantum noise, which was expected to reduce it periodically. This technique was then implemented on a micron-scale mechanical device in Schwab’s low-temperature laboratory at Caltech.

    “There are two main variables that describe the noise or movement,” Schwab explains. “We showed that we can actually make the fluctuations of one of the variables smaller—at the expense of making the quantum fluctuations of the other variable larger. That is what’s called a quantum squeezed state; we squeezed the noise down in one place, but because of the squeezing, the noise has to squirt out in other places. But as long as those more noisy places aren’t where you’re obtaining a measurement, it doesn’t matter.”

    The ability to control quantum noise could one day be used to improve the precision of very sensitive measurements, such as those obtained by LIGO, the Laser Interferometry Gravitational-wave Observatory, a Caltech-and-MIT-led project searching for signs of gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of space-time.

    LIGO
    Caltech Ligo

    “We’ve been thinking a lot about using these methods to detect gravitational waves from pulsars—incredibly dense stars that are the mass of our sun compressed into a 10 km radius and spin at 10 to 100 times a second,” Schwab says. “In the 1970s, Kip Thorne [Caltech’s Richard P. Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics, Emeritus] and others wrote papers saying that these pulsars should be emitting gravity waves that are nearly perfectly periodic, so we’re thinking hard about how to use these techniques on a gram-scale object to reduce quantum noise in detectors, thus increasing the sensitivity to pick up on those gravity waves,” Schwab says.

    In order to do that, the current device would have to be scaled up. “Our work aims to detect quantum mechanics at bigger and bigger scales, and one day, our hope is that this will eventually start touching on something as big as gravitational waves,” he says.

    These results were published in an article titled, Quantum squeezing of motion in a mechanical resonator. In addition to Schwab, Clerk, and Marquardt, other coauthors include former graduate student Emma E. Wollman (PhD ’15); graduate students Chan U. Lei and Ari J. Weinstein; former postdoctoral scholar Junho Suh; and Andreas Kronwald of Friedrich-Alexander-Universität in Erlangen, Germany. The work was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the Institute for Quantum Information and Matter, an NSF Physics Frontiers Center that also has support from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

    See the full article here.

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    The California Institute of Technology (commonly referred to as Caltech) is a private research university located in Pasadena, California, United States. Caltech has six academic divisions with strong emphases on science and engineering. Its 124-acre (50 ha) primary campus is located approximately 11 mi (18 km) northeast of downtown Los Angeles. “The mission of the California Institute of Technology is to expand human knowledge and benefit society through research integrated with education. We investigate the most challenging, fundamental problems in science and technology in a singularly collegial, interdisciplinary atmosphere, while educating outstanding students to become creative members of society.”
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  • richardmitnick 10:28 am on August 31, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Quantum Mechanics,   

    From Forbes: “What Has Quantum Mechanics Ever Done For Us?” 

    ForbesMag

    Forbes Magazine

    Aug 13, 2015
    Chad Orzel

    1
    Intel Corp. CEO Paul Otellini show off chips on a wafer built on so-called 22-nanometer technology at the Intel Developers’ Forum in San Francisco, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2009. Those chips are still being developed in Intel’s factories and won’t go into production until 2011. Each chip on the silicon “wafer” Otellini showed off has 2.9 billion transistors. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

    In a different corner of the social media universe, someone left comments on a link to Tuesday’s post about quantum randomness declaring that they weren’t aware of any practical applications of quantum physics. There’s a kind of Life of Brian absurdity to posting this on the Internet, which is a giant world-spanning, life-changing practical application of quantum mechanics. But just to make things a little clearer, here’s a quick look at some of the myriad everyday things that depend on quantum physics for their operation.

    Computers and Smartphones

    At bottom, the entire computer industry is built on quantum mechanics. Modern semiconductor-based electronics rely on the band structure of solid objects. This is fundamentally a quantum phenomenon, depending on the wave nature of electrons, and because we understand that wave nature, we can manipulate the electrical properties of silicon. Mixing in just a tiny fraction of the right other elements changes the band structure and thus the conductivity; we know exactly what to add and how much to use thanks to our detailed understanding of the quantum nature of matter.

    Stacking up layers of silicon doped with different elements allows us to make transistors on the nanometer scale. Millions of these packed together in a single block of material make the computer chips that power all the technological gadgets that are so central to modern life. Desktops, laptops, tablets, smartphones, even small household appliances and kids’ toys are driven by computer chips that simply would not be possible to make without our modern understanding of quantum physics.

    2
    Green LED lights and rows of fibre optic cables are seen feeding into a computer server inside a comms room at an office in London, U.K., on Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2014. Vodafone Group Plc will ask telecommunications regulator Ofcom to guarantee that U.K. wireless carriers, which rely on BT’s fiber network to transmit voice and data traffic across the country, are treated fairly when BT sets prices and connects their broadcasting towers. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

    Unless my grumpy correspondent was posting from the exact server hosting the comment files (which would be really creepy), odds are very good that comment took a path to me that also relies on quantum physics, specifically fiber optic telecommunications. The fibers themselves are pretty classical, but the light sources used to send messages down the fiber optic cables are lasers, which are quantum devices.

    The key physics of the laser is contained in a 1917 paper [Albert] Einstein wrote on the statistics of photons (though the term “photon” was coined later) and their interaction with atoms. This introduces the idea of stimulated emission, where an atom in a high-energy state encountering a photon of the right wavelength is induced to emit a second photon identical to the first. This process is responsible for two of the letters in the word “laser,” originally an acronym for “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.”

    Any time you use a laser, whether indirectly by making a phone call, directly by scanning a UPC label on your groceries, or frivolously to torment a cat, you’re making practical use of quantum physics.

    Atomic Clocks and GPS

    One of the most common uses of Internet-connected smart phones is to find directions to unfamiliar places, another application that is critically dependent on quantum physics. Smartphone navigation is enabled by the Global Positioning System, a network of satellites each broadcasting the time. The GPS receiver in your phone picks up the signal from multiple clocks, and uses the different arrival times from different satellites to determine your distance from each of those satellites. The computer inside the receiver then does a bit of math to figure out the single point on the surface of the Earth that is that distance from those satellites, and locates you to within a few meters.

    This trilateration relies on the constant speed of light to convert time to distance. Light moves at about a foot per nanosecond, so the timing accuracy of the satellite signals needs to be really good, so each satellite in the GPS constellation contains an ensemble of atomic clocks. These rely on quantum mechanics– the “ticking” of the clock is the oscillation of microwaves driving a transition between two particular quantum states in a cesium atom (or rubidium, in some of the clocks).

    Any time you use your phone to get you from point A to point B, the trip is made possible by quantum physics.

    Magnetic Resonance Imaging

    3
    Leila Wehbe, a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, talks about an experiment that used brain scans made in this brain-scanning MRI machine on campus, Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014. Volunteers where scanned as each word of a chapter of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” was flashed for half a second onto a screen inside the machine. Images showing combinations of data and graphics were collected. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

    The transition used for atomic clocks is a “hyperfine” transition, which comes from a small energy shift depending on how the spin of an electron is oriented relative to the spin of the nucleus of the atom. Those spins are an intrinsically quantum phenomenon (actually, it comes in only when you include special relativity with quantum mechanics), causing the electrons, protons, and neutrons making up ordinary matter behave like tiny magnets.

    This spin is responsible for the fourth and final practical application of quantum physics that I’ll talk about today, namely Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). The central process in an MRI machine is called Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (but “nuclear” is a scary word, so it’s avoided for a consumer medical process), and works by flipping the spins in the nuclei of hydrogen atoms. A clever arrangement of magnetic fields lets doctors measure the concentration of hydrogen appearing in different parts of the body, which in turn distinguishes between a lot of softer tissues that don’t show up well in traditional x-rays.

    So any time you, a loved one, or your favorite professional athlete undergoes an MRI scan, you have quantum physics to thank for their diagnosis and hopefully successful recovery.

    So, while it may sometimes seem like quantum physics is arcane and remote from everyday experience (a self-inflicted problem for physicists, to some degree, as we often over-emphasize the weirder aspects when talking about quantum mechanics), in fact it is absolutely essential to modern life. Semiconductor electronics, lasers, atomic clocks, and magnetic resonance scanners all fundamentally depend on our understanding of the quantum nature of light and matter.

    But, you know, other than computers, smartphones, the Internet, GPS, and MRI, what has quantum physics ever done for us?

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 11:41 am on August 28, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Quantum Mechanics, , , Quantum Weirdness   

    From New Scientist: “Quantum weirdness proved real in first loophole-free experiment” 

    NewScientist

    New Scientist

    28 August 2015
    Jacob Aron

    1
    Welcome to quantum reality (Image: Julie Guiche/Picturetank)

    It’s official: the universe is weird. Our everyday experience tells us that distant objects cannot influence each other, and don’t disappear just because no one is looking at them. Even Albert Einstein was dead against such ideas because they clashed so badly with our views of the real world.

    But it turns out we’re wrong – the quantum nature of reality means, on some level, these things can and do actually happen. A groundbreaking experiment puts the final nail in the coffin of our ordinary “local realism” view of the universe, settling an argument that has raged through physics for nearly a century.

    Teams of physicists around the world have been racing to complete this experiment for decades. Now, a group led by Ronald Hanson at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands has finally cracked it. “It’s a very nice and beautiful experiment, and one can only congratulate the group for that,” says Anton Zeilinger, head of one of the rival teams at the University of Vienna, Austria. “Very well done.”

    To understand what Hanson and his colleagues did, we have to go back to the 1930s, when physicists were struggling to come to terms with the strange predictions of the emerging science of quantum mechanics. The theory suggested that particles could become entangled, so that measuring one would instantly influence the measurement of the other, even if they were separated by a great distance. Einstein dubbed this “spooky action at a distance”, unhappy with the implication that particles could apparently communicate faster than any signal could pass between them.

    What’s more, the theory also suggested that the properties of a particle are only fixed when measured, and prior to that they exist in a fuzzy cloud of probabilities.

    Nonsense, said Einstein, who famously proclaimed that God does not play dice with the universe. He and others were guided by the principle of local realism, which broadly says that only nearby objects can influence each other and that the universe is “real” – our observing it doesn’t bring it into existence by crystallising vague probabilities. They argued that quantum mechanics was incomplete, and that “hidden variables” operating at some deeper layer of reality could explain the theory’s apparent weirdness.

    On the other side, physicists like Niels Bohr insisted that we just had to accept the new quantum reality, since it explained problems that classical theories of light and energy couldn’t handle.

    Test it out

    It wasn’t until the 1960s that the debate shifted further to Bohr’s side, thanks to John Bell, a physicist at CERN. He realised that there was a limit to how connected the properties of two particles could be if local realism was to be believed. So he formulated this insight into a mathematical expression called an inequality. If tests showed that the connection between particles exceeded the limit he set, local realism was toast.

    “This is the magic of Bell’s inequality,” says Zeilinger’s colleague Johannes Kofler. “It brought an almost purely philosophical thing, where no one knew how to decide between two positions, down to a thing you could experimentally test.”

    And test they did. Experiments have been violating Bell’s inequality for decades, and the majority of physicists now believe Einstein’s views on local realism were wrong. But doubts remained. All prior experiments were subject to a number of potential loopholes, leaving a gap that could allow Einstein’s camp to come surging back.

    “The notion of local realism is so ingrained into our daily thinking, even as physicists, that it is very important to definitely close all the loopholes,” says Zeilinger.

    Loophole trade-off

    A typical Bell test begins with a source of photons, which spits out two at the same time and sends them in different directions to two waiting detectors, operated by a hypothetical pair conventionally known as Alice and Bob. The pair have independently chosen the settings on their detectors so that only photons with certain properties can get through. If the photons are entangled according to quantum mechanics, they can influence each other and repeated tests will show a stronger pattern between Alice and Bob’s measurements than local realism would allow.

    But what if Alice and Bob are passing unseen signals – perhaps through Einstein’s deeper hidden layer of reality – that allow one detector to communicate with the other? Then you couldn’t be sure that the particles are truly influencing each other in their instant, spooky quantum-mechanical way – instead, the detectors could be in cahoots, altering their measurements. This is known as the locality loophole, and it can be closed by moving the detectors far enough apart that there isn’t enough time for a signal to cross over before the measurement is complete. Previously Zeilinger and others have done just that, including shooting photons between two Canary Islands 144 kilometres apart.

    Close one loophole, though, and another opens. The Bell test relies on building up a statistical picture through repeated experiments, so it doesn’t work if your equipment doesn’t pick up enough photons. Other experiments closed this detection loophole, but the problem gets worse the further you separate the detectors, as photons can get lost on the way. So moving the detectors apart to close the locality loophole begins to widen the detection one.

    “There’s a trade-off between these two things,” says Kofler. That meant hard-core local realists always had a loophole to explain away previous experiments – until now.

    “Our experiment realizes the first Bell test that simultaneously addressed both the detection loophole and the locality loophole,” writes Hanson’s team in a paper detailing the study. Hanson declined to be interviewed because the work is currently under review for publication in a journal.

    Entangled diamonds

    In this set-up, Alice and Bob sit in two laboratories 1.3 kilometres apart. Light takes 4.27 microseconds to travel this distance and their measurement takes only 3.7 microseconds, so this is far enough to close the locality loophole.

    Each laboratory has a diamond that contains an electron with a property called spin. The team hits the diamonds with randomly produced microwave pulses. This makes them each emit a photon, which is entangled with the electron’s spin. These photons are then sent to a third location, C, in between Alice and Bob, where another detector clocks their arrival time.

    If photons arrive from Alice and Bob at exactly the same time, they transfer their entanglement to the spins in each diamond. So the electrons are entangled across the distance of the two labs – just what we need for a Bell test. What’s more, the electrons’ spin is constantly monitored, and the detectors are of high enough quality to close the detector loophole.

    But the downside is that the two photons arriving at C rarely coincide – just a few per hour. The team took 245 measurements, so it was a long wait. “This is really a very tough experiment,” says Kofler.

    The result was clear: the labs detected more highly correlated spins than local realism would allow. The weird world of quantum mechanics is our world.

    “If they’ve succeeded, then without any doubt they’ve done a remarkable experiment,” says Sandu Popescu of the University of Bristol, UK. But he points out that most people expected this result – “I can’t say everybody was holding their breath to see what happens.” What’s important is that these kinds of experiments drive the development of new quantum technology, he says.

    One of the most important quantum technologies in use today is quantum cryptography. Data networks that use the weird properties of the quantum world to guarantee absolute secrecy are already springing up across the globe, but the loopholes are potential bugs in the laws of physics that might have allowed hackers through. “Bell tests are a security guarantee,” says Kofler. You could say Hanon’s team just patched the universe.
    Freedom of choice

    There are still a few ways to quibble with the result. The experiment was so tough that the p-value – a measure of statistical significance – was relatively high for work in physics. Other sciences like biology normally accept a p-value below 5 per cent as a significant result, but physicists tend to insist on values millions of times smaller, meaning the result is more statistically sound. Hanson’s group reports a p-value of around 4 per cent, just below that higher threshold.

    That isn’t too concerning, says Zeilinger. “I expect they have improved the experiment, and by the time it is published they’ll have better data,” he says. “There is no doubt it will withstand scrutiny.”

    And there is one remaining loophole for local realists to cling to, but no experiment can ever rule it out. What if there is some kind of link between the random microwave generators and the detectors? Then Alice and Bob might think they’re free to choose the settings on their equipment, but hidden variables could interfere with their choice and thwart the Bell test.

    Hanson’s team note this is a possibility, but assume it isn’t the case. Zeilinger’s experiment attempts to deal with this freedom of choice loophole by separating their random number generators and detectors, while others have proposed using photons from distant quasars to produce random numbers, resulting in billions of years of separation.

    None of this helps in the long run. Suppose the universe is somehow entirely predetermined, the flutter of every photon carved in stone since time immemorial. In that case, no one would ever have a choice about anything. “The freedom of choice loophole will never be closed fully,” says Kofler. As such, it’s not really worth experimentalists worrying about – if the universe is predetermined, the complete lack of free will means we’ve got bigger fish to fry.

    So what would Einstein have made of this new result? Unfortunately he died before Bell proposed his inequality, so we don’t know if subsequent developments would have changed his mind, but he’d likely be enamoured with the lengths people have gone to prove him wrong. “I would give a lot to know what his reaction would be,” says Zeilinger. “I think he would be very impressed.”

    Journal reference: arxiv.org/abs/1508.05949v1

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  • richardmitnick 11:22 am on July 26, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Quantum Mechanics, Time Travel   

    From RT: “Time-traveling photons connect general relativity to quantum mechanics” 

    RT Logo

    RT

    23 Jun, 2014
    No Writer Credit

    1
    Space-time structure exhibiting closed paths in space (horizontal) and time (vertical). A quantum particle travels through a wormhole back in time and returns to the same location in space and time. (Photo credit: Martin Ringbauer)

    Scientists have simulated time travel by using particles of light acting as quantum particles sent away and then brought back to their original space-time location. This is a huge step toward marrying two of the most irreconcilable theories in physics.

    Since traveling all the way to a black hole to see if an object you’re holding would bend, break or put itself back together in inexplicable ways is a bit of a trek, scientists have decided to find a point of convergence between general relativity and quantum mechanics in lab conditions, and they achieved success.

    Australian researchers from the UQ’s School of Mathematics and Physics wanted to plug the holes in the discrepancies that exist between two of our most commonly accepted physics theories, which is no easy task: on the one hand, you have Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which predicts the behavior of massive objects like planets and galaxies; but on the other, you have something whose laws completely clash with Einstein’s – and that is the theory of quantum mechanics, which describes our world at the molecular level. And this is where things get interesting: we still have no concrete idea of all the principles of movement and interaction that underpin this theory.

    Natural laws of space and time simply break down there.

    The light particles used in the study are known as photons, and in this University of Queensland study, they stood in for actual quantum particles for the purpose of finding out how they behaved while moving through space and time.

    The team simulated the behavior of a single photon that travels back in time through a wormhole and meets its older self – an identical photon. “We used single photons to do this but the time-travel was simulated by using a second photon to play the part of the past incarnation of the time traveling photon,” said UQ Physics Professor Tim Ralph asquotedby The Speaker.

    The findings were published in the journal Nature Communications and gained support from the country’s key institutions on quantum physics.

    Some of the biggest examples of why the two approaches can’t be reconciled concern the so-called space-time loop. Einstein suggested that you can travel back in time and return to the starting point in space and time. This presented a problem, known commonly as the ‘grandparents paradox,’ theorized by Kurt Godel in 1949: if you were to travel back in time and prevent your grandparents from meeting, and in so doing prevent your own birth, the classical laws of physics would prevent you from being born.

    But Tim Ralph has reminded that in 1991, such situations could be avoided by harnessing quantum mechanics’ flexible laws: “The properties of quantum particles are ‘fuzzy’ or uncertain to start with, so this gives them enough wiggle room to avoid inconsistent time travel situations,” he said.

    There are still ways in which science hasn’t tested the meeting points between general relativity and quantum mechanics – such as when relativity is tested under extreme conditions, where its laws visibly seem to bend, just like near the event horizon of a black hole.

    But since it’s not really easy to approach one, the UQ scientists were content with testing out these points of convergence on photons.

    “Our study provides insights into where and how nature might behave differently from what our theories predict,” Professor Ralph said.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 10:31 am on July 18, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Quantum Mechanics   

    From NOVA: “How Time Got Its Arrow” 

    PBS NOVA

    NOVA

    15 Jul 2015

    1
    Lee Smolin, Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics

    I believe in time.

    I haven’t always believed in it. Like many physicists and philosophers, I had once concluded from general relativity and quantum gravity that time is not a fundamental aspect of nature, but instead emerges from another, deeper description. Then, starting in the 1990s and accelerated by an eight year collaboration with the Brazilian philosopher Roberto Mangabeira Unger, I came to believe instead that time is fundamental. (How I came to this is another story.) Now, I believe that by taking time to be fundamental, we might be able to understand how general relativity and the standard model emerge from a deeper theory, why time only goes one way, and how the universe was born.

    2
    The Standard Model of elementary particles (more schematic depiction), with the three generations of matter, gauge bosons in the fourth column, and the Higgs boson in the fifth.

    1
    Flickr user Robert Couse-Baker, adapted under a Creative Commons license.

    The story starts with change. Science, most broadly defined, is the systematic study of change. The world we observe and experience is constantly changing. And most of the changes we observe are irreversible. We are born, we grow, we age, we die, as do all living things. We remember the past and our actions influence the future. Spilled milk is hard to clean up; a cool drink or a hot bath tend towards room temperature. The whole world, living and non-living, is dominated by irreversible processes, as captured mathematically by the second law of thermodynamics, which holds that the entropy of a closed system usually increases and seldom decreases.

    It may come as a surprise, then, that physics regards this irreversibility as a cosmic accident. The laws of nature as we know them are all reversible when you change the direction of time. Film a process described by those laws, and then run the movie backwards: the rewound version is also allowed by the laws of physics. To be more precise, you may have to change left for right and particles for antiparticles, along with reversing the direction of time, but the standard model of particle physics predicts that the original process and its reverse are equally likely.

    The same is true of Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which describes gravity and cosmology. If the whole universe were observed to run backwards in time, so that it heated up while it collapsed, rather than cooled as it expanded, that would be equally consistent with these fundamental laws, as we currently understand them.

    This leads to a fundamental question: Why, if the laws are reversible, is the universe so dominated by irreversible processes? Why does the second law of thermodynamics hold so universally?

    Gravity is one part of the answer. The second law tells us that the entropy of a closed system, which is a measure of disorder or randomness in the motions of the atoms making up that system, will most likely increase until a state of maximum disorder is reached. This state is called equilibrium. Once it is reached, the system is as mixed as possible, so all parts have the same temperature and all the elements are equally distributed.

    But on large scales, the universe is far from equilibrium. Galaxies like ours are continually forming stars, turning nuclear potential energy into heat and light, as they drive the irreversible flows of energy and materials that characterize the galactic disks. On these large scales, gravity fights the decay to equilibrium by causing matter to clump,,creating subsystems like stars and planets. This is beautifully illustrated in some recent papers by Barbour, Koslowski and Mercati.

    But this is only part of the answer to why the universe is out of equilibrium. There remains the mystery of why the universe at the big bang was not created in equilibrium to start with, for the picture of the universe given us by observations requires that the universe be created in an extremely improbable state—very far from equilibrium. Why?

    So when we say that our universe started off in a state far from equilibrium, we are saying that it started off in a state that would be very improbable, were the initial state chosen randomly from the set of all possible states. Yet we must accept this vast improbability to explain the ubiquity of irreversible processes in our world in terms of the reversible laws we know.

    In particular, the conditions present in the early universe, being far from equilibrium, are highly irreversible. Run the early universe backwards to a big crunch and they look nothing like the late universe that might be in our future.

    In 1979 Roger Penrose proposed a radical answer to the mystery of irreversibility. His proposal concerned quantum gravity, the long-searched-for unification of all the known laws, which is believed to govern the processes that created the universe in the big bang—or transformed it from whatever state it was in before the big bang.

    Penrose hypothesized that quantum gravity, as the most fundamental law, will be unlike the laws we know in that it will be irreversible. The known laws, along with their time-reversibility, emerge as approximations to quantum gravity when the universe grows large and cool and dilute, Penrose argued. But those approximate laws will act within a universe whose early conditions were set up by the more fundamental, irreversible laws. In this way the improbability of the early conditions can be explained.

    In the intervening years our knowledge of the early universe has been dramatically improved by a host of cosmological observations, but these have only deepened the mysteries we have been discussing. So a few years ago, Marina Cortes, a cosmologist from the Institute for Astronomy in Edinburgh, and I decided to revive Penrose’s suggestion in the light of all the knowledge gained since, both observationally and theoretically.

    Dr. Cortes argued that time is not only fundamental but fundamentally irreversible. She proposed that the universe is made of processes that continuously generate new events from present events. Events happen, but cannot unhappen. The reversal of an event does not erase that event, Cortes says: It is a new event, which happens after it.

    In December of 2011, Dr. Cortes began a three-month visit to Perimeter Institute, where I work, and challenged me to collaborate with her on realizing these ideas. The first result was a model we developed of a universe created by events, which we called an energetic causal set model.

    This is a version of a kind of model called a causal set model, in which the history of the universe is considered to be a discrete set of events related only by cause-and-effect. Our model was different from earlier models, though. In it, events are created by a process which maximizes their uniqueness. More precisely, the process produces a universe created by events, each of which is different from all the others. Space is not fundamental, only the events and the causal process that creates them are fundamental. But if space is not fundamental, energy is. The events each have a quantity of energy, which they gain from their predecessors and pass on to their successors. Everything else in the world emerges from these events and the energy they convey.

    We studied the model universes created by these processes and found that they generally pass through two stages of evolution. In the first stage, they are dominated by the irreversible processes that create the events, each unique. The direction of time is clear. But this gives rise to a second stage in which trails of events appear to propagate, creating emergent notions of particles. Particles emerge only when the second, approximately reversible stage is reached. These emergent particles propagate and appear to interact through emergent laws which seem reversible. In fact, we found, there are many possible models in which particles and approximately reversible laws emerge after a time from a more fundamental irreversible, particle-free system.

    This might explain how general relativity and the standard model emerged from a more fundamental theory, as Penrose hypothesized. Could we, we wondered, start with general relativity and, staying within the language of that theory, modify it to describe an irreversible theory? This would give us a framework to bridge the transition between the early, irreversible stage and the later, reversible stage.

    In a recent paper, Marina Cortes, PI postdoc Henrique Gomes and I showed one way to modify general relativity in a way that introduces a preferred direction of time, and we explored the possible consequences for the cosmology of the early universe. In particular, we showed that there were analogies of dark matter and dark energy, but which introduce a preferred direction of time, so a contracting universe is no longer the time-reverse of an expanding universe.

    To do this we had to first modify general relativity to include a physically preferred notion of time. Without that there is no notion of reversing time. Fortunately, such a modification already existed. Called shape dynamics, it had been proposed in 2011 by three young people, including Gomes. Their work was inspired by Julian Barbour, who had proposed that general relativity could be reformulated so that a relativity of size substituted for a relativity of time.

    Using the language of shape dynamics, Cortes, Gomes and I found a way to gently modify general relativity so that little is changed on the scale of stars, galaxies and planets. Nor are the predictions of general relativity regarding gravitational waves affected. But on the scale of the whole universe, and for the early universe, there are deviations where one cannot escape the consequences of a fundamental direction of time.

    Very recently I found still another way to modify the laws of general relativity to make them irreversible. General relativity incorporates effects of two fixed constants of nature, Newton’s constant, which measures the strength of the gravitational force, and the cosmological constant [usually denoted by the Greek capital letter lambda: Λ], which measures the density of energy in empty space. Usually these both are fixed constants, but I found a way they could evolve in time without destroying the beautiful harmony and consistency of the Einstein equations of general relativity.

    These developments are very recent and are far from demonstrating that the irreversibility we see around us is a reflection of a fundamental arrow of time. But they open a way to an understanding of how time got its direction that does not rely on our universe being a consequence of a cosmic accident.

    See the full article here.

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    NOVA is the highest rated science series on television and the most watched documentary series on public television. It is also one of television’s most acclaimed series, having won every major television award, most of them many times over.

     
  • richardmitnick 3:32 pm on May 29, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Quantum Mechanics   

    From ANU: “Physicists solve quantum tunneling mystery” 

    ANU Australian National University Bloc

    Australian National University

    28 May 2015
    No Writer Credit

    1
    Professor Anatoli Kheifets’ theory tackles ultrafast physics. Composite image Stuart Hay, ANU

    An international team of scientists studying ultrafast physics have solved a mystery of quantum mechanics, and found that quantum tunneling is an instantaneous process.

    The new theory could lead to faster and smaller electronic components, for which quantum tunneling is a significant factor. It will also lead to a better understanding of diverse areas such as electron microscopy, nuclear fusion and DNA mutations.

    “Timescales this short have never been explored before. It’s an entirely new world,” said one of the international team, Professor Anatoli Kheifets, from The Australian National University (ANU).

    “We have modelled the most delicate processes of nature very accurately.”

    At very small scales quantum physics shows that particles such as electrons have wave-like properties – their exact position is not well defined. This means they can occasionally sneak through apparently impenetrable barriers, a phenomenon called quantum tunneling.

    Quantum tunneling plays a role in a number of phenomena, such as nuclear fusion in the sun, scanning tunneling microscopy, and flash memory for computers. However, the leakage of particles also limits the miniaturisation of electronic components.

    Professor Kheifets and Dr. Igor Ivanov, from the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering, are members of a team which studied ultrafast experiments at the attosecond scale (10-18 seconds), a field that has developed in the last 15 years.

    Until their work, a number of attosecond phenomena could not be adequately explained, such as the time delay when a photon ionised an atom.

    “At that timescale the time an electron takes to quantum tunnel out of an atom was thought to be significant. But the mathematics says the time during tunneling is imaginary – a complex number – which we realised meant it must be an instantaneous process,” said Professor Kheifets.

    “A very interesting paradox arises, because electron velocity during tunneling may become greater than the speed of light. However, this does not contradict the special theory of relativity, as the tunneling velocity is also imaginary” said Dr Ivanov, who recently took up a position at the Center for Relativistic Laser Science in Korea.

    The team’s calculations, which were made using the Raijin supercomputer, revealed that the delay in photoionisation originates not from quantum tunneling but from the electric field of the nucleus attracting the escaping electron.

    The results give an accurate calibration for future attosecond-scale research, said Professor Kheifets.

    “It’s a good reference point for future experiments, such as studying proteins unfolding, or speeding up electrons in microchips,” he said.

    The research is published in Nature Physics.

    See the full article here.

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    ANU Campus

    ANU is a world-leading university in Australia’s capital city, Canberra. Our location points to our unique history, ties to the Australian Government and special standing as a resource for the Australian people.

    Our focus on research as an asset, and an approach to education, ensures our graduates are in demand the world-over for their abilities to understand, and apply vision and creativity to addressing complex contemporary challenges.

     
  • richardmitnick 4:29 pm on May 28, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Classical Mechanics, , , Quantum Mechanics   

    From NOVA: “Ultracold Experiment Could Solve One of Physics’s Biggest Contradictions” 

    PBS NOVA

    NOVA

    28 May 2015
    Allison Eck

    1
    A vortex structure emerges within a rotating Bose-Einstein condensate.

    There’s a mysterious threshold that’s predicted to exist beyond the limits of what we can see. It’s called the quantum-classical transition.

    If scientists were to find it, they’d be able to solve one of the most baffling questions in physics: why is it that a soccer ball or a ballet dancer both obey the Newtonian laws while the subatomic particles they’re made of behave according to quantum rules? Finding the bridge between the two could usher in a new era in physics.

    We don’t yet know how the transition from the quantum world to the classical one occurs, but a new experiment, detailed in Physical Review Letters, might give us the opportunity to learn more.

    The experiment involves cooling a cloud of rubidium atoms to the point that they become virtually motionless. Theoretically, if a cloud of atoms becomes cold enough, the wave-like (quantum) nature of the individual atoms will start to expand and overlap with one another. It’s sort of like circular ripples in a pond that, as they get bigger, merge to form one large ring. This phenomenon is more commonly known as a Bose-Einstein condensate, a state of matter in which subatomic particles are chilled to near absolute zero (0 Kelvin or −273.15° C) and coalesce into a single quantum object. That quantum object is so big (compared to the individual atoms) that it’s almost macroscopic—in other words, it’s encroaching on the classical world.

    The team of physicists cooled their cloud of atoms down to the nano-Kelvin range by trapping them in a magnetic “bowl.” To attempt further cooling, they then shot the cloud of atoms upward in a 10-meter-long pipe and let them free-fall from there, during which time the atom cloud expanded thermally. Then the scientists contained that expansion by sending another laser down onto the atoms, creating an electromagnetic field that kept the cloud from expanding further as it dropped. It created a kind of “cooling” effect, but not in the traditional way you might think—rather, the atoms have a lowered “effective temperature,” which is a measure of how quickly the atom cloud is spreading outward. At this point, then, the atom cloud can be described in terms of two separate temperatures: one in the direction of downward travel, and another in the transverse direction (perpendicular to the direction of travel).

    Here’s Chris Lee, writing for ArsTechnica:

    “This is only the start though. Like all lenses, a magnetic lens has an intrinsic limit to how well it can focus (or, in this case, collimate) the atoms. Ultimately, this limitation is given by the quantum uncertainty in the atom’s momentum and position. If the lensing technique performed at these physical limits, then the cloud’s transverse temperature would end up at a few femtoKelvin (10-15). That would be absolutely incredible.

    A really nice side effect is that combinations of lenses can be used like telescopes to compress or expand the cloud while leaving the transverse temperature very cold. It may then be possible to tune how strongly the atoms’ waves overlap and control the speed at which the transition from quantum to classical occurs. This would allow the researchers to explore the transition over a large range of conditions and make their findings more general.”

    Jason Hogan, assistant professor of physics at Stanford University and one of the study’s authors, told NOVA Next that you can understand this last part by using the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. As a quantum object’s uncertainty in momentum goes down, its uncertainty in position goes up. Hogan and his colleagues are essentially fine-tuning these parameters along two dimensions. If they can find a minimum uncertainty in the momentum (by cooling the particles as much as they can), then they could find the point at which the quantum-to-classical transition occurs. And that would be a spectacular discovery for the field of particle physics.

    See the full article here.

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    NOVA is the highest rated science series on television and the most watched documentary series on public television. It is also one of television’s most acclaimed series, having won every major television award, most of them many times over.

     
  • richardmitnick 8:18 am on April 8, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Quantum Mechanics   

    From NBC: “Great Scott! Reverse-Causality Research Ends in a Quantum Muddle” 

    NBC News

    NBC News

    April 6th 2015
    Alan Boyle

    One of the longest-running and weirdest examples of a crowdfunded scientific experiment is finally reaching the end of the road, and the results will come as a disappointment to anyone who wishes the “Back to the Future” movies could really happen: Quantum interference foils what once looked like a plausible strategy for influencing events in the past.

    “The trick doesn’t work in its present form,” John Cramer, a physics professor emeritus at the University of Washington in Seattle, told NBC News.

    Cramer suspected that would be the case, but back in 2006, he was interested in figuring out exactly why it wouldn’t work. The trick involved trying to flip a switch that would have an effect not only on photons going through a complicated set-up of lasers and mirrors, but also on entangled photons that had gone through the set-up about 50 microseconds earlier.

    “We were looking at whether there might be a loophole that would allow you to do this,” Cramer said.

    CERN LHC Map
    CERN LHC Grand Tunnel
    CERN LHC particles
    World’s Most Complex Machine Gets Ready for More Atom-Smashing

    He would describe the experiment as a study of quantum nonlocal communication. But conceptually, the effect would be a little like sending Marty McFly back in time to make sure his mom married his dad in “Back to the Future.”

    In 2007, two years before Kickstarter was founded, Cramer put out an appeal for private contributions that would help him buy the required equipment. The appeal raised $40,000, and the retrocausality experiment went forward. Over the years that followed, Cramer repeatedly tweaked the apparatus to get around roadblocks posed by quantum mechanics.

    Signals vs. anti-signals

    Past experiments showed that there was a complementary relationship between two characteristics of quantum systems: entanglement and coherence. When photons are entangled, “there’s a certain amount of noise that’s generated at the same time,” Cramer said. That makes reading the signal amid the noise more difficult. But anything you do to make the signal more coherent decreases the level of entanglement.

    Cramer thought he could use a wedge-shaped mirror to split a photon beam into two signals that were partly entangled and partly coherent. Theoretically, he should have been able to analyze the interference patterns to see how fiddling with one signal affected the other one microseconds earlier.

    It turned out not to be that easy.

    “We analyzed it up, down and sideways, and concluded that what happens is, yes, you have a switchable interference pattern,” Cramer said. “But because you have no coincidence measurement, you can’t look at just one interference pattern. You have to add up two patterns. And they always add up to no signal.”

    Translation: When you analyze the quantum signal from earlier in time, you have to include an “anti-signal” in your calculations. Thus, the future leaves no fingerprints on the past. “Nature appears to be well-protected from the possibility of nonlocal signaling,” according to Cramer and his co-author, Nick Herbert.

    Fact vs. fiction

    Cramer is a novelist as well as a physicist, and he plans to work the concept of backward causality into his fiction even if it’s not observable in reality. “I have the outline of a novel that I was thinking about writing along these lines,” he said.

    The plot calls for a pair of researchers to rig up Puget Sound with a huge fiber-optic network, in order to prove it’s possible to communicate backwards in time. The experiment makes a splash, but not the kind that the researchers intended.

    “The boat that contains the fiber-optics equipment gets destroyed,” Cramer said.

    Cramer and Herbert are the authors of An Inquiry Into the Possibility of Nonlocal Quantum Communication, which has been submitted to Foundations of Physics for publication. The research was supported in part by the U. S. Department of Energy Office of Scientific Research.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 10:56 am on March 24, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Quantum Mechanics   

    From PI: “Quantum Cause and Effect” 

    Perimeter Institute
    Perimeter Institute

    March 23, 2015
    Erin Bow

    Correlation does not imply causation – unless it’s quantum. That’s the message of surprising new work from Perimeter Institute and the Institute for Quantum Computing.

    Does taking a drug and then getting better mean that the drug made you better? Did that tax cut really stimulate the economy or did it recover on its own? The problem of answering such questions – of inferring causal relationships from correlations – reaches across the sciences, and beyond.

    Normally, correlation by itself does not imply causation. But new research from Perimeter Institute and the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) has found that in the case of quantum variables, it sometimes can.

    The new work, just published in Nature Physics, is the result of a collaboration between Perimeter Faculty member Robert Spekkens, IQC Faculty member Kevin Resch, PhD student Katja Ried, MSc students Megan Agnew and Lydia Vermeyden, and Max Planck Institute senior research scientist Dominik Janzing.

    As a practical illustration of the difference between correlation and causation, consider a drug trial: some people take a drug, and some of them get better. Even more promising, the doctors find that among people who took the drug, 60 percent recover; among people who didn’t take the drug, only 40 percent recover. What conclusions can the doctors draw?

    At first blush, it may look as if the drug caused the recovery, but the doctors would need more information before drawing that conclusion. It might be that more men than women chose to take the drug, and more men than women tended to spontaneously recover. In that case, a common cause, gender, could potentially explain the correlation.

    This imaginary drug trial shows how tricky it can be to distinguish cause-effect correlations from correlations springing from common causes. That’s why the caution “correlation does not imply causation” is drilled into the heads of every researcher for whom statistics is of even passing importance.

    Over the last century, scientists, mathematicians, and philosophers have developed a powerful toolkit for untangling webs of cause, effect, and correlation in even the most complex evolving system. The case of systems with only two variables – like the drug trial above – turns out to be the hardest one. If you want to avoid introducing assumptions about what’s happening, you need to intervene on variable A – in this case, taking the drug. That’s why a real drug trial would be carefully randomized, assigning some people to take the drug and others to take a placebo. Only active intervention on variable A can establish its causal relationship with variable B.

    But what of quantum variables? This new research shows that certain kinds of quantum correlations do imply causation – even without the kind of active intervention that classical variables require.

    The new research is both theoretical and experimental. Ried, Spekkens, and Janzing worked from the theoretical end. They considered the situation of an observer who has probed two quantum variables – say, the polarization properties of two photons – and found that they are correlated. The measurement is carried out at two points in time, but the observer doesn’t know if she’s looking at the same photon twice (that is, probing a cause-effect relationship) or looking at a pair of photons in an entangled state (that is, probing a common cause relationship).

    The theorists’ crucial insight was that the correlations measured between a photon at one time and the same photon at another time had a different pattern than the correlations measured between two entangled photons. In other words, they discovered that under the right circumstances, they could tell cause-effect from common cause.

    Meanwhile, at the Institute for Quantum Computing, Agnew, Vermeyden, and Resch had the tools to put this remarkable idea to the test. They built an apparatus that could generate two entangled photons, A and B. They measured A, and then sent the pair through a gate that either transmitted photon A, or switched photon A and photon B and transmitted B.

    Crucially, this gate could swap between the two scenarios, choosing one or the other based on the output of a random number generator. On the other side of this gate, the researchers conducted another measurement while blind to which photon they measured. Just as the theorists predicted, they saw two distinct patterns of correlation emerge.

    This means that researchers measuring quantum variables can do something researchers measuring classical variables cannot: tell the difference between cause-effect and common cause in a system with only two variables, without making an active intervention on the first variable.

    This discovery has significance for both quantum information and quantum foundations.

    The work establishes a new class of things that quantum systems can do which classical systems cannot. It’s too early to say how that may play out, but such quantum advantages underpin the promise of quantum technologies: quantum entanglement, for instance, underlies quantum cryptography, and quantum superposition underlies quantum computation.

    The discovery of new quantum advantages has historically led to interesting places, and the researchers are hopeful that this new quantum advantage will follow suit.

    For those interested in quantum foundations, this work provides a new framework to ask basic questions about quantum mechanics. There is a lively and long-standing debate in the field concerning which quantum concepts are about reality, and which are about our knowledge of reality – for instance, whether the quantum uncertainty about (say) the polarization of a photon means that the photon itself has no defined polarization, or if it means that the observer of such a photon has limited knowledge.

    Because correlations are about what observers can infer, while causal relations are about the physical relations among systems, this research opens a new window on such questions.

    The team describes the work as opening the door to many more lines of inquiry, such as: How can these techniques be generalized to scenarios involving more than two systems? Is the menu of possible causal relations between quantum systems larger than between classical systems? And most broadly and excitingly: How should we understand causality in a quantum world?

    See the full article here.

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    About Perimeter

    Perimeter Institute is a leading centre for scientific research, training and educational outreach in foundational theoretical physics. Founded in 1999 in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, its mission is to advance our understanding of the universe at the most fundamental level, stimulating the breakthroughs that could transform our future. Perimeter also trains the next generation of physicists through innovative programs, and shares the excitement and wonder of science with students, teachers and the general public.

     
  • richardmitnick 10:55 am on March 18, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Quantum Mechanics, ,   

    From ars technica: “Shining an X-Ray torch on quantum gravity” 

    Ars Technica
    ars technica

    Mar 17, 2015
    Chris Lee

    1
    This free electron laser could eventually provide a test of quantum gravity. BNL

    Quantum mechanics has been successful beyond the wildest dreams of its founders. The lives and times of atoms, governed by quantum mechanics, play out before us on the grand stage of space and time. And the stage is an integral part of the show, bending and warping around the actors according to the rules of general relativity. The actors—atoms and molecules—respond to this shifting stage, but they have no influence on how it warps and flows around them.

    This is puzzling to us. Why is it such a one directional thing: general relativity influences quantum mechanics, but quantum mechanics has no influence on general relativity? It’s a puzzle that is born of human expectation rather than evidence. We expect that, since quantum mechanics is punctuated by sharp jumps, somehow space and time should do the same.

    There’s also the expectation that, if space and time acted a bit more quantum-ish, then the equations of general relativity would be better behaved. In general relativity, it is possible to bend space and time infinitely sharply. This is something we simply cannot understand: what would infinitely bent space look like? To most physicists, it looks like something that cannot actually be real, indicating a problem with the theory. Might this be where the actors influence the stage?

    Quantum mechanics and relativity on the clock

    To try and catch the actors modifying the stage requires the most precise experiments ever devised. Nothing we have so far will get us close, so a new idea from a pair of German physicists is very welcome. They focus on what’s perhaps the most promising avenue for detecting quantum influences on space-time: time-dilation experiments. Modern clocks rely on the quantum nature of atoms to measure time. And the flow of time depends on relative speed and gravitational acceleration. Hence, we can test general relativity, special relativity, and quantum mechanics all in the same experiment.

    To get an idea of how this works, let’s take a look at the traditional atomic clock. In an atomic clock, we carefully prepare some atoms in a predefined superposition state: that is the atom is prepared such that it has a fifty percent chance of being in state A, and a fifty percent chance of being in state B. As time passes, the environment around the atom forces the superposition state to change. At some later point, it will have a seventy five percent chance of being in state A; even later, it will certainly be in state A. Keep on going, however, and the chance of being in state A starts to shrink, and it continues to do so until the atom is certainly in state B. Provided that the atom is undisturbed, these oscillations will continue.

    These periodic oscillations provide the perfect ticking clock. We simply define the period of an oscillation to be our base unit of time. To couple this to general relativity measurements is, in principle, rather simple. Build two clocks and place them beside each other. At a certain moment, we start counting ticks from both clocks. When one clock reaches a thousand (for instance), we compare the number of ticks from the two clocks. If we have done our job right, both clocks should have reached a thousand ticks.

    If we shoot one into space, however, and perform the same experiment, and relativity demands that the clock in orbit record more ticks than the clock on Earth. The way we record the passing of time is by a phenomena that is purely quantum in nature, while the passing of time is modified by gravity. These experiments work really well. But at present, they are not sensitive enough to detect any deviation from either quantum mechanics or general relativity.

    Going nuclear

    That’s where the new ideas come in. The researchers propose, essentially, to create something similar to an atomic clock, but instead of tracking the oscillation atomic states, they want to track nuclear states. Usually, when I discuss atoms, I ignore the nucleus entirely. Yes, it is there, but I only really care about the influence the nucleus has on the energetic states of the electrons that surround it. However, in one key way the nucleus is just like the electron cloud that surrounds it: it has its own set of energetic states. It is possible to excite nuclear states (using X-Ray radiation) and, afterwards, they will return the ground state by emitting an X-Ray.

    So let’s imagine that we have a crystal of silver sitting on the surface of the Earth. The silver atoms all experience a slightly different flow of time because the atoms at the top of the crystal are further away from the center of the Earth compared to the atoms at the bottom of the crystal.

    To kick things off, we send in a single X-Ray photon, which is absorbed by the crystal. This is where the awesomeness of quantum mechanics puts on sunglasses and starts dancing. We don’t know which silver atom absorbed the photon, so we have to consider that all of them absorbed a tiny fraction of the photon. This shared absorption now means that all of the silver atoms enter a superposition state of having absorbed and not absorbed a photon. This superposition state changes with time, just like in an atomic clock.

    In the absence of an outside environment, all the silver atoms will change in lockstep. And when the photon is re-emitted from the crystal, all the atoms will contribute to that emission. So each atom behaves as if it is emitting a partial photon. These photons add together, and a single photon flies off in the same direction as the absorbed photon had been traveling. Essentially because all the atoms are in lockstep, the charge oscillations that emit the photon add up in phase only in the direction that the absorbed photon was flying.

    Gravity, though, causes the atoms to fall out of lockstep. So when the time comes to emit, the charge oscillations are all slightly out of phase with each other. But they are not random: those at the top of the crystal are just slightly ahead of those at the bottom of the crystal. As a result, the direction for which the individual contributions add up in phase is not in the same direction as the flight path of the absorbed photon, but at a very slight angle.

    How big is this angle? That depends on the size of the crystal and how long it takes the environment to randomize the emission process. For a crystal of silver atoms that is less than 1mm thick, the angle could be as large as 100 micro-degrees, which is small but probably measurable.
    Spinning crystals

    That, however, is only the beginning of a seam of clever. If the crystal is placed on the outside of a cylinder and rotated during the experiment, then the top atoms of the crystal are moving faster than the bottom, meaning that the time-dilation experienced at the top of the crystal is greater than that at the bottom. This has exactly the same effect as placing the crystal in a gravitational field, but now the strength of that field is governed by the rate of rotation.

    In any case, by spinning a 10mm diameter cylinder very fast (70,000 revolutions per second), the angular deflection is vastly increased. For silver, for instance, it reaches 90 degrees. With such a large signal, even smaller deviations from the predictions of general relativity should be detectable in the lab. Importantly, these deviations happen on very small length scales, where we would normally start thinking about quantum effects in matter. Experiments like these may even be sensitive enough to see the influence of quantum mechanics on space and time.

    A physical implementation of this experiment will be challenging but not impossible. The biggest issue is probably the X-Ray source and doing single photon experiments in the X-Ray regime. Following that, the crystals need to be extremely pure, and something called a coherent state needs to be created within them. This is certainly not trivial. Given that it took atomic physicists a long time to achieve this for electronic transitions, I think it will take a lot more work to make it happen at X-Ray frequencies.

    On the upside free electron lasers have come a very long way, and they have much better control over beam intensities and stability. This is, hopefully, the sort of challenge that beam-line scientists live for.

    See the full article here.

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    Ars Technica was founded in 1998 when Founder & Editor-in-Chief Ken Fisher announced his plans for starting a publication devoted to technology that would cater to what he called “alpha geeks”: technologists and IT professionals. Ken’s vision was to build a publication with a simple editorial mission: be “technically savvy, up-to-date, and more fun” than what was currently popular in the space. In the ensuing years, with formidable contributions by a unique editorial staff, Ars Technica became a trusted source for technology news, tech policy analysis, breakdowns of the latest scientific advancements, gadget reviews, software, hardware, and nearly everything else found in between layers of silicon.

    Ars Technica innovates by listening to its core readership. Readers have come to demand devotedness to accuracy and integrity, flanked by a willingness to leave each day’s meaningless, click-bait fodder by the wayside. The result is something unique: the unparalleled marriage of breadth and depth in technology journalism. By 2001, Ars Technica was regularly producing news reports, op-eds, and the like, but the company stood out from the competition by regularly providing long thought-pieces and in-depth explainers.

    And thanks to its readership, Ars Technica also accomplished a number of industry leading moves. In 2001, Ars launched a digital subscription service when such things were non-existent for digital media. Ars was also the first IT publication to begin covering the resurgence of Apple, and the first to draw analytical and cultural ties between the world of high technology and gaming. Ars was also first to begin selling its long form content in digitally distributable forms, such as PDFs and eventually eBooks (again, starting in 2001).

     
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