Physics News of the Week: The Strangeness of Photons and Cats

| September 28, 2014 | 0 Comments

This week, as always, some amazing physics papers were released, so here’s a quick summary including the links to original articles. For more news register for our email newsletter here.

1. Photons Weave Their Way Through the Triple Slit (Sep 25)

A recent paper by the scientists from the Raman Research Institute and Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore has recently identified a flaw in how quantum-interference experiments are interpreted. By using Feynman path integral formulation of quantum mechanics scientists found that non-classical paths – in which a particle can weave its way through several slits – must be considered along with the conventional quantum superposition of three direct paths (one through each of the slits). It is expected that the effect will be measurable and will provide new insights into the fundamentals of quantum physics.

An example of a non classical path in a triple-slit experiment would be a particle going through, say, the slit on its left, curving around and going back through the central slit before emerging from the slit on the right. In the case of electrons and photons, the researchers worked out that the non-classical paths would have a minuscule effect which would deviate from a simple superposition by a factor too small to be detected. It turns out, however, that the deviation should rise for microwave photons, and the team believes that it could be measured in an experiment using photons of wavelength 4 cm.

India’s first Mars mission launched earlier this week

2. India’s Mars Satellite Sends First Images (Sep 25)

India’s space agency has released its first picture of Mars, taken by its satellite which entered orbit around the Red Planet on Wednesday. It is the first time a maiden voyage to Mars has entered orbit successfully and it is the cheapest one so far. For comparison, Nasa’s latest Maven mission cost almost 10 times as much. One of the main aims of its mission is to study the Martian atmosphere for signs of life. India has become the fourth nation or geo-bloc to put a satellite into orbit around Mars, and the first from Asia. Only the US, Russia and Europe have previously sent missions to Mars. For high resolution pictures head here.

3. Experiment Makes Schrodinger’s Cat Choose (Sep 26)

Recently scientists from the Macquarie University have proposed a set of assumptions and proposed a novel experiment, to test the consequences of making quantum theory more intuitive. “While quantum theory is the science behind almost all of our technology, its disconnect with our everyday intuitions is still worrisome and actively researched,” says lead author Associate Professor Daniel Terno.

Daniel Terno and his colleagues have applied a set of basic assumptions and applied them to experiments resulting in some surprising outcomes. The chosen assumptions were that every object at any time is really a particle or a wave, but not both, also that determinism is applicable to quantum physics and finally that the speed of light is the ultimate speed limit. In taking these assumptions and applying them to an experiment, where the measuring device is controlled by a Schrodinger’s cat-like state, the research team reached some perplexing paradoxes.

“Only after the cat was found to be dead or alive were we able to tell if what we did was to look for a particle or for a wave,” says Associate Professor Terno. “Then these three innocent-looking ideas result in predictions that would contradict an experiment. The universe simply does not work like that: you can see things to be real, or certain, but not both.”

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