New Year’s Eve is approaching and with it the uncontrolled detonation of dangerous explosives. But they light up colourfully and bang loudly, so we don’t care for this one night of the year. But how do the colours get into the fireworks? There is actually quantum physics hidden in something as mundane and huge as a firework display.
I recently read the book “The Circle” by Dave Eggers. It’s about a Facebook-Twitter-like Internet company called “The Circle” that wants to create complete transparency and networking – privacy, unfortunately, falls by the wayside. The quote above is by one of the Circle bosses and he uses it to justify his ubiquitous surveillance. I am sure that we would all answer this question affirmatively. We behave differently under surveillance than when we are alone. So does that mean that pure observation influences our behaviour?
Quantum computers bring quantum physics into the spotlight. Because tech giants as Google, IBM, Microsoft, and Amazon are all over them, they are the talk of the town. In addition to scientific journals, daily newspapers and gossip magazines also report on qubits and their friends. Quantum computers are always explained “simply and compactly”. I could also write an article like this, but more specifically, I would like to address the misunderstandings and confusion that such articles often cause. This is not (necessarily) the fault of the authors because no one can adequately explain quantum physics in 5000 characters. Others, however, blatantly sell the quantum computer as a holy grail or Pandora’s box. As so often, the truth lies somewhere in the between.
Sometimes you have to make a choice. Some things you hate, for example, or you love them. Like Brussels sprouts, marzipan or Big Brother. In other cases, you have to take sides: Cats or dogs, Edward or Jacob, wave or particle. But as unlikely as it may sound, sometimes you can be two things at once. Although when this happens in the very foundations of physics, it can start heated discussions. Like at the beginning of the 20th century when Albert Einstein threw light into a deep identity crisis: wave or particle, which is it?
Is Einstein the father of quantum physics? Although most people associate him with the theory of relativity, Einstein made significant contributions to the development of quantum physics. In fact, he received his Nobel Prize in 1921 not for the theory of relativity, but for his explanation of the photoelectric effect – one of the key experiments in quantum physics. And like many discoveries in physics, this one was pure chance.
In my last article, I explained that, deep down, light consists of energy packets – quanta. These are created, for example, when light interacts with atoms, the building blocks of our world. That sounds very daring and raises many questions, some of them deeply philosophical. And while you are racking your brains about it, one question arises: Who actually thought this up?
A quantum of happiness, a quantum leap in technology, Firefox Quantum. Quanta seem to be present in our lives: they have entered common speech, the newspapers are frequently reporting about quantum computers. Yet hardly anyone outside physics knows what quanta actually are.