Quantum Lottery

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               The science of applied physics really took off following the advent of the desktop particle accelerator, but for Gary Girik, it was all about the green.

                With a PhD in Particle Physics, a Master’s in Thermodynamics, and a Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering, Gary was something of a dabbler in the physical sciences. His main interest, however, always was and forever remained the aforementioned green. Such was the guiding hand leading Dr. Girik in his current pursuits with his newly-acquired Heisenberg 3000 Home/Office Desktop Particle Collider.

                Having achieved much success in quantum entanglement and imprinting information onto subatomic particles[1], the particle accelerator presented an intriguing idea to him. Since his building was supplied with electricity via the latest Tesla Unlimited® rooftop substation, he could draw at will upon a practically inexhaustible power source. With some relatively minor adjustments and late-night tinkering, he was able to modify the Heisenberg 3000 to accept more than the standard four TeV and operate on six exa-electron volts. With this much power, he believed, although he had not yet attempted it, that he could speed his particles along faster than the speed of light. This would, of course, propel the particles, and any information they carried, into the future at a rate considerably faster than you or I normally get there. [2] This epiphany coincided with a powerful metal image of his eyeballs turning into dollar signs, and he was sure quite distinctly heard the sound, “from out of nowhere,” of a cash register ringing up a sale.

                There was nothing left for it but to try it.

                The plan was simple enough. [3] Entangle a pair of electrons. Send one electron through the accelerator faster than light, so that it will arrive tomorrow before everyone else gets there. Then, “tomorrow,” encode the day’s winning lottery numbers on the electron, and the information will instantly be encoded on the entangled electron-pair partner “today.” Such is the quantum weirdness of spooky action at a distance.

                While a mathematician would never be foolish enough to throw money away on a lottery ticket, a quantum physicist, in all probability, just might. Gary entangled his favorite pair of particles [4] and lovingly sent one off through his souped-up accelerator, the lights throughout the building dimming momentarily to accommodate the power surging into the Heisenberg. There. Now all I have to do is wait until, until… Of course, there was no waiting necessary at all. Because the moment he sent Hardy off to the future, there was nothing to do but look at Laurel/Ramanujan and see if the experiment was successful. The effect should be instantaneous. It should be there now.

                He put the particle into the STM and grinned from ear to ear. There, in all their glory, sat the six numbers that would be called in tomorrow’s Powerball: 1, 7, 2, 9, 3, 2. Why wait? He grabbed his coat, wallet and keys and scrambled downstairs to buy just one ticket at the convenience store across the street. He stepped into the street and was hit by a cab. The last thing he noticed before passing out was the number of the cab. “1729,” he mumbled aloud, “What a dull number.” Then he lapsed into unconsciousness.

                He awoke some minutes later as he was being lifted onto the stretcher in preparation for being placed into the ambulance. “No, no!” he cried out. “My apartment. I must get back to my apartment. Warn myself.”

                “Warn yours-? “half- quizzed the paramedic at the foot end of the stretcher.  “Buddy, you got a pretty good knock on the head, and you’re delirious. We’re taking you to the hospital.”

                “No!” Gary pleaded. “I refuse treatment. Do you hear me? I refuse treatment. You must let me go!”

                Foot-of-stretcher paramedic looked at head-of-stretcher paramedic, who merely shrugged an it-doesn’t-matter-to-me-we-get-paid-either-way shrug. After signing a release that he didn’t bother to read (his vision was blurry and he had a headache), they let Gary go, and he headed back across the street to his apartment building, surprisingly incautiously given his most recent experience with street-crossing.

                Back at his apartment, the world around him turning dark at the borders and rapidly closing in like the end of a silent movie, he just had time to encode Hardy with the number of the cab, 1729, and today’s date, 3/2 – Hold on. That’s not right at all. There’s something else I was supposed to encode. What was it? I can’t remember. Can’t think. Too tired.  No matter, he thought. He could try again tomorrow. Or yesterday even. But then, if he did warn himself of the accident, then why hadn’t he avoided the cab? Maybe it just hadn’t happened yet. His head hurt, and he needed a nap. He closed his eyes and rested his head on pillows of green as cascades of little white numbered balls (and one red one) dropped as the gentle rain from heaven. Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.

[1] He had once encoded The Beatles’ “Money (That’s What I Want)” onto a pair of entangled photons and beamed one to a colleague in Japan. Whenever Gary played his photon on his Lightman, the song would instantly play as well on his friend’s Lightman in Tokyo (his friend is Director of Impossible Projects at Sony and was largely responsible for developing the platform which made the Lightman possible).

[2] By limiting the number of particles he sent through the accelerator, he could avoid a collision that would send his cargo flinging about infinitely in all directions. “Atom smashers, they’re not just for smashing atoms anymore.”TM

[3] Not really.

[4] One was named Hardy; the other, either Laurel or Ramanujan, depending upon the weather.


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Quantum Theories

Q is for ... Quantum biology

A new and growing field that explores whether many biological processes depend on uniquely quantum processes to work. Under particular scrutiny at the moment are photosynthesis, smell and the navigation of migratory birds.

U is for ... Universe

To many researchers, the universe behaves like a gigantic quantum computer that is busy processing all the information it contains.

R is for ... Randomness

Unpredictability lies at the heart of quantum mechanics. It bothered Einstein, but it also bothers the Dalai Lama.

M is for ... Many Worlds Theory

Some researchers think the best way to explain the strange characteristics of the quantum world is to allow that each quantum event creates a new universe.

B is for ... Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC)

At extremely low temperatures, quantum rules mean that atoms can come together and behave as if they are one giant super-atom.

I is for ... Information

Many researchers working in quantum theory believe that information is the most fundamental building block of reality.

J is for ... Josephson Junction

This is a narrow constriction in a ring of superconductor. Current can only move around the ring because of quantum laws; the apparatus provides a neat way to investigate the properties of quantum mechanics.

E is for ... Entanglement

When two quantum objects interact, the information they contain becomes shared. This can result in a kind of link between them, where an action performed on one will affect the outcome of an action performed on the other. This “entanglement” applies even if the two particles are half a universe apart.

H is for ... Hawking Radiation

In 1975, Stephen Hawking showed that the principles of quantum mechanics would mean that a black hole emits a slow stream of particles and would eventually evaporate.

N is for ... Nonlocality

When two quantum particles are entangled, it can also be said they are “nonlocal”: their physical proximity does not affect the way their quantum states are linked.

R is for ... Reality

Since the predictions of quantum theory have been right in every experiment ever done, many researchers think it is the best guide we have to the nature of reality. Unfortunately, that still leaves room for plenty of ideas about what reality really is!

Z is for ... Zero-point energy

Even at absolute zero, the lowest temperature possible, nothing has zero energy. In these conditions, particles and fields are in their lowest energy state, with an energy proportional to Planck’s constant.

T is for ... Teleportation

Quantum tricks allow a particle to be transported from one location to another without passing through the intervening space – or that’s how it appears. The reality is that the process is more like faxing, where the information held by one particle is written onto a distant particle.

C is for ... Cryptography

People have been hiding information in messages for millennia, but the quantum world provides a whole new way to do it.

A is for ... Act of observation

Some people believe this changes everything in the quantum world, even bringing things into existence.

C is for ... Computing

The rules of the quantum world mean that we can process information much faster than is possible using the computers we use now.

H is for ... Hidden Variables

One school of thought says that the strangeness of quantum theory can be put down to a lack of information; if we could find the “hidden variables” the mysteries would all go away.

L is for ... Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

At CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, this machine is smashing apart particles in order to discover their constituent parts and the quantum laws that govern their behaviour.

D is for ... Dice

Albert Einstein decided quantum theory couldn’t be right because its reliance on probability means everything is a result of chance. “God doesn’t play dice with the world,” he said.

P is for ... Probability

Quantum mechanics is a probabilistic theory: it does not give definite answers, but only the probability that an experiment will come up with a particular answer. This was the source of Einstein’s objection that God “does not play dice” with the universe.

P is for ... Planck's Constant

This is one of the universal constants of nature, and relates the energy of a single quantum of radiation to its frequency. It is central to quantum theory and appears in many important formulae, including the Schrödinger Equation.

X is for ... X-ray

In 1923 Arthur Compton shone X-rays onto a block of graphite and found that they bounced off with their energy reduced exactly as would be expected if they were composed of particles colliding with electrons in the graphite. This was the first indication of radiation’s particle-like nature.

M is for ... Multiverse

Our most successful theories of cosmology suggest that our universe is one of many universes that bubble off from one another. It’s not clear whether it will ever be possible to detect these other universes.

Y is for ... Young's Double Slit Experiment

In 1801, Thomas Young proved light was a wave, and overthrew Newton’s idea that light was a “corpuscle”.

Q is for ... Qubit

One quantum bit of information is known as a qubit (pronounced Q-bit). The ability of quantum particles to exist in many different states at once means a single quantum object can represent multiple qubits at once, opening up the possibility of extremely fast information processing.

S is for ... Superposition

Quantum objects can exist in two or more states at once: an electron in superposition, for example, can simultaneously move clockwise and anticlockwise around a ring-shaped conductor.

W is for ... Wave-particle duality

It is possible to describe an atom, an electron, or a photon as either a wave or a particle. In reality, they are both: a wave and a particle.

A is for ... Atom

This is the basic building block of matter that creates the world of chemical elements – although it is made up of more fundamental particles.

O is for ... Objective reality

Niels Bohr, one of the founding fathers of quantum physics, said there is no such thing as objective reality. All we can talk about, he said, is the results of measurements we make.

W is for ... Wavefunction

The mathematics of quantum theory associates each quantum object with a wavefunction that appears in the Schrödinger equation and gives the probability of finding it in any given state.

L is for ... Light

We used to believe light was a wave, then we discovered it had the properties of a particle that we call a photon. Now we know it, like all elementary quantum objects, is both a wave and a particle!

F is for ... Free Will

Ideas at the heart of quantum theory, to do with randomness and the character of the molecules that make up the physical matter of our brains, lead some researchers to suggest humans can’t have free will.

D is for ... Decoherence

Unless it is carefully isolated, a quantum system will “leak” information into its surroundings. This can destroy delicate states such as superposition and entanglement.

A is for ... Alice and Bob

In quantum experiments, these are the names traditionally given to the people transmitting and receiving information. In quantum cryptography, an eavesdropper called Eve tries to intercept the information.

I is for ... Interferometer

Some of the strangest characteristics of quantum theory can be demonstrated by firing a photon into an interferometer: the device’s output is a pattern that can only be explained by the photon passing simultaneously through two widely-separated slits.

R is for ... Radioactivity

The atoms of a radioactive substance break apart, emitting particles. It is impossible to predict when the next particle will be emitted as it happens at random. All we can do is give the probability that any particular atom will have decayed by a given time.

T is for ... Tunnelling

This happens when quantum objects “borrow” energy in order to bypass an obstacle such as a gap in an electrical circuit. It is possible thanks to the uncertainty principle, and enables quantum particles to do things other particles can’t.

V is for ... Virtual particles

Quantum theory’s uncertainty principle says that since not even empty space can have zero energy, the universe is fizzing with particle-antiparticle pairs that pop in and out of existence. These “virtual” particles are the source of Hawking radiation.

B is for ... Bell's Theorem

In 1964, John Bell came up with a way of testing whether quantum theory was a true reflection of reality. In 1982, the results came in – and the world has never been the same since!

G is for ... Gluon

These elementary particles hold together the quarks that lie at the heart of matter.

K is for ... Kaon

These are particles that carry a quantum property called strangeness. Some fundamental particles have the property known as charm!

U is for ... Uncertainty Principle

One of the most famous ideas in science, this declares that it is impossible to know all the physical attributes of a quantum particle or system simultaneously.

S is for ... Schrödinger Equation

This is the central equation of quantum theory, and describes how any quantum system will behave, and how its observable qualities are likely to manifest in an experiment.

S is for ... Schrödinger’s Cat

A hypothetical experiment in which a cat kept in a closed box can be alive and dead at the same time – as long as nobody lifts the lid to take a look.

G is for ... Gravity

Our best theory of gravity no longer belongs to Isaac Newton. It’s Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. There’s just one problem: it is incompatible with quantum theory. The effort to tie the two together provides the greatest challenge to physics in the 21st century.