We’re officially nine days from Halloween and that means here at the Eclectic Eccentric it’s time to get Spoooky!!! Well at least spooky if you’re a fan of Albert Einstein, personal physics hero of yours truly. What am I rambling about? Why the topic of today’s Mind Blown of course: Quantum Entanglement. Or as Einstein once contemptuously called it “spooky action at a distance”.
We’ll get to the reasons for Einstein’s disdain in a bit but first a little bit of background. Quantum Entanglement in a phenomenon in which particles that have previously interacted become intertwined to such an extent they can no longer be treated as separate entities, rather they now operate as a singular quantum system. As a result anything you do to one particle has a correlated and predictable effect on the other, even when the particle are separated by a great distance.
Now this may seem like no big deal to you. If one particle spins up then the other spins down, whoopee throw a parade your mind is the opposite of blown. And that is an understandable reaction if you are not a particle physicist but let me explain to you the ramifications of this phenomenon. Imagine you have two coins. When you flip one it will land as either heads or tails but while it is in the air its outcome is still to be determined. This is analogous to a particle having either a clockwise or counterclockwise spin. If the first coin was entangled with the second coin then anytime the first coin turned up heads the second coin would turn up tails. If the first coin turns up tails then the second will turn up heads. No matter how far the distance between them once you measured one coin the other would instantly become the opposite. This is what happens with particles and their spins
Which is precisely the reason Einstein was so disdainful. If there is some method of communication between the two particles then either it occurs at faster than light speed or outside space-time. Neither of those explanations fits in with the universe as Einstein described it. He argued that there was simply some bit of information that we did not have that pre-determined this behavior. With no way to prove the point one way or the other the debate became a philosophical one. Until an experiment was designed by Irish physicist named John Bell which mathematically disproved one of the pillars of Einstein’s argument, the principle of locality, in which he postulated that particle can only be affected by phenomenon in their immediate vicinity. Unfortunately for good old Albert his position just kept getting weaker from there.
Which brings us to yesterday when a group of Dutch scientists reported the results of an experiment that robustly supports Quantum Entanglement as a real, measureable phenomenon. The scientist measured two groups of entangled electrons held in specially prepared diamonds placed 1.3 km apart. The experiment proved conclusively that the last two arguments against Quantum Entanglement, that the particles could somehow synchronize behavior ahead of time or that testing might detect only a particular group of prepared entangled particles, did not occur. Sorry Einstein.
For right now Quantum Entanglement remains one of the quirkier parts of particle physics but maybe someday scientists will be able to harness this phenomenon to communicate instantaneously across galaxies or possibly even create transporters straight out of Star Trek. That’s right Quantum Entanglement might just mean “Beam Me Up Scotty”. Mind Blown?