The Quantum Age
How the Physics of the Very Small Has Transformed Our LivesBook - 2015
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An algebra-1 problem that many bright college grads give incomplete answer (What is the aquare root of 4?)
As you probably remember from school, the square root of a number is the value which, multiplied by itself, produces that original number. So, for instance, the square root of 4 is 2. Or, rather, 2 is one of 4’s square roots. Because it is also true that –2 multiplied by itself makes 4. The number 4 has two square roots, 2 and –2. ...
Slow glass - Imagine a special window, which it took light a year to travel through. Set it up in front of a beautiful view for a year – then you could place it in a house anywhere and you would have that view for the next twelve months. You wouldn’t be looking at a TV picture of what was out there, but the real view, simply seeing the light as it came through the window twelve months later. It’s science fiction (Bob Shaw wrote an excellent book called Other Times, Other Eyes based on this concept of ‘slow glass’) – but it is also strangely close to the truth of a special kind of superfluid, a way to use a Bose–Einstein condensate to influence the speed of light itself.
Einstein called ‘spooky action at a distance’, the ability for distant particles to somehow instantly communicate with each other in apparent contradiction of Einstein’s relativity and its assumption that nothing can travel faster than light. The linkage between these particles is quantum entanglement. It is a phenomenon that we will meet a number of times in the quantum world. In Einstein’s eyes this prediction was a counter to the quantum theorists, but Schrödinger turned things on their head when he coined the term entanglement.
the Baywatch Principle, as lifeguards understand the concept that seems to guide the path of light. Rather than run straight towards a drowning person, a lifeguard will run further on the sand to cut down the distance they need to travel through the water, because even the fastest swimmer is slower in water than on land. Similarly, light will travel along a route that takes it further through air and less far through water or glass, as light is slower in water and glass. It follows the path that will take the least time, producing that refracting bend.
the SQUID, the superconducting quantum interference device. This makes use of a Josephson junction to detect very small changes in the magnetic field around the SQUID, as even a tiny induced current from the changing field will have a detectable influence on the junction.
The chances are that most of the time you were at school your science teachers lied to you. Much of the science, and specifically the physics, they taught you was rooted in the Victorian age (which is quite probably why so many people find school science dull). Quantum theory, special and general relativity, arguably the most significant fundamentals of physics, were developed in the 20th century and yet these are largely ignored in schools, in part because they are considered too ‘difficult’ and in part because many of the teachers have little idea about these subjects themselves. And that’s a terrible pity, when you consider that in terms of impact on your everyday life, one of these two subjects is quite possibly the most important bit of scientific knowledge there is.
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