Frank Close has a question. “If you step off the top of a cliff, how does the Earth down there ‘know’ you are up there for it to attract you?” It’s a question that has taxed many illustrious minds before him. Newton’s law of gravitation first allowed such apparently instantaneous “action at a distance”, but he himself was not a fan, describing it in a letter as “so great an Absurdity that I believe no Man who has in philosophical Matters a competent Faculty of thinking can ever fall into it”.
Today we ascribe such absurdities to fields. “The idea of some physical mediation – a field of influence – is more satisfying,” says Close, a physicist at the University of Oxford. Earth’s gravitational field, for example, extends out into space in all directions, tugging at smaller objects like the moon and us on top of …
A droplet bouncing on the surface of a liquid has been found to exhibit many quantum-like properties, including double-slit interference, tunneling and energy quantization. John Bush
For nearly a century, “reality” has been a murky concept. The laws of quantum physics seem to suggest that particles spend much of their time in a ghostly state, lacking even basic properties such as a definite location and instead existing everywhere and nowhere at once. Only when a particle is measured does it suddenly materialize, appearing to pick its position as if by a roll of the dice.
Quantum physics deals with the behavior of the smallest things in our universe: subatomic particles. It is a new science, only coming into its own in the early part of the 20th century, when physicists began questioning why they couldn’t explain certain radiation effects. One of those pioneering thinkers, Max Planck, used the term “quanta” for the tiny particles of energy he was studying, hence the term “quantum physics” . Planck said the amount of energy contained in an electron is not arbitrary, but is a multiple of a standard “quantum” of energy. One of the first practical uses of this knowledge led to the invention of the transistor.
Unlike the inflexible laws of standard physics, the rules of quantum physics seem made to be broken. Just when scientists think they have one aspect of their study of matter and energy figured out, a new twist emerges to remind them how unpredictable their field is. Still, they are able to harness, if not totally understand, their findings to develop new technologies that sometimes can only be called fantastic.
Scientists are working on quantum computers that can execute jobs far beyond the capabilities of today’s machines. Broken into subatomic particles, items might be transported from one location to another in the blink of an eye. And, perhaps most intriguing of all, quantum physics may lead us to discover just what the universe is made of and what or who did the making.