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A spooky spin to a quantum embrace

analysis Updated: Oct 30, 2015 23:10 IST
Anu Acharya
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In an undated handout image, Bas Hensen, left, and Ronald Hansen adjusting equipment for their Bell test at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. The findings support the idea that objects separated by great distance can instantaneously affect each other’s behavior. (NYT)

Less than a week ago, I remember having a pseudo philosophical discussion, I said: What if quantum physics had a serious flaw and did not behave like it should. The beauty of science is that fundamental tenets can be argued out, and knowledge can be built on the shoulders of giants like Albert Einstein even if they defy some of their own fundamental principles. This is because knowledge is essentially evolutionary in character.

A recent experiment at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands that led to the confirmation of what Einstein described as too “spooky” to be true, is a case in point.

Einsteinian physics conforms to local-realism and it made quantum entanglement — now proven in laboratory tests — seem impossible. The experiment at Delft demonstrated a clear, invisible and instantaneous behavioural connection between sub-atomic particles (electrons) spread 1.3 km from each other. This was done by placing two diamonds with a tiny trap for single electrons, which have a magnetic property called a ‘spin’. Pulses of microwave and laser energy were used to entangle and measure the ‘spin’.

Quantum entanglement appears to break the classical laws of physics by showing that pairs of sub-atomic particles can be connected in a way that transcends time and space. While I would love to take this discussion towards love and life, I won’t, as it would make it mystical, not scientific.

According to the new finding, the entangled particles are such that the state of one particle influences the state of the other. This flies in the face of Einstein, who said that it was impossible for such particles to transmit information faster than the speed of light. The new finding makes it clear that neither distance nor the speed of light matters when it comes to particles locked in a quantum embrace.

However, the idea of quantum entanglement has been doing the rounds with physicists for over 80 years, and it seems that its two major loopholes have been closed.

Since 1935-36, when Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen created a ‘thought experiment’ to demonstrate the ‘inherent paradox’ in quantum theory, there have been attempts to find the truth, including a 1964 experiment by John Bell to rule out the ‘non-weird’ explanation for ‘action at distance.’

It is important to remember here that the new findings do not contradict Einstein’s theories, but only prove something he suspected could not be. It takes science to the next level — and there lies its beauty.

In practical applications, atomic clocks can use quantum theory’s principles to measure time. Super-powerful quantum computers can dramatically improve their processing capacities by using quantum bits, or qubits. Last February, researchers at Japan’s Hokkaido University developed the world’s first ‘entanglement-enhanced’ microscope that uses beams of photos to help minute measurements. In India, the Harish Chandra Research Institute in Allahabad has been working in the field.

Spookiness might remind us of love and how one’s behaviour influences the other regardless of time and space. That is for us to mull over a cup of tea.

Anu Acharya is CEO of Mapmygenome.in, a biotechnology startup.The views expressed are personal.