Anyone who has read a little pop-science has probably heard the curiously quoted idea that a sub-atomic particle can be in two places at once. I think I was probably first told this fact before my 18th birthday, and you put it to one side and continue with life. In actuality the result is earth shattering – this phenomena is so unusual even Einstein discovered it and thought he must be wrong, describing it as “spooky”. The reason it is so unnatural to us is broadly down to our perception of time – but isn’t it exciting that things exist, that are true that even scared dear Albert.
The idea is somewhat touched upon with the famous double slit experiment, where one can observe a photon passing through a double slit an witness an interference pattern. Of course this does no so much prove the theory; but rather demonstrate quite neatly the wave-particle duality of light. Einstein did of course demonstrate light is a particle with the photoelectric effect; but even still this just is not enough.
Time dilation is a phenomena which we have come to know and love in modern physics, but being in two places at once – that is beyond the realms of perception. The fact which we keep coming back to is that in truth we know very very little about the quantum world. Einstein’s famous quote “God does not play dice with the universe” refers to just this: we really know very little about the quantum world; and the more we know the more chaotic and statistics driven it appears to be – not a world as yet we have been able to pin down into human like formulas, a world with inequalities and uncertainty.
The story begins with Drs. S. Haroche and D. Wineland who won the Nobel Prize for proving this bizarre fact. The big breakthrough that made all of this possible was the ability to isolate individual photons. When you are trying to prove a problem of this nature – I hope you can see the way to do it is ensuring you have just one photon (or electron or subatomic particle) to dampen down the naysayers who will clearly just tell you you are confused and that you are observing two particles.
What the scientists did was take an atom and hit it with half the amount of light needed in order to move it. When this occurred the particle was observed to be simultaneously in motion and at rest at the same time; it was in two locations 80 nanometres apart (basically very close to eachother but distinctly defined places). The same individual particle was in two slightly different places at the same time coordinate. Mind melting.
This really challenges what we know about time; and tears up the linear perception of it we have in our mind. It creates a world of loops and time bends which right now is something which we really struggle to make sense of. In 500 years; this may well be the bread and butter of what is then labelled modern physics. Right now – it’s all a bit strange. Is this the reality of the world we live in? Or is it just something we don’t need to get terribly excited about?