Quantum world

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“Kitty kitten, little kitten, quantum kitten. Come here little kitty. Mmmm, here is a piece of smelly little fish. Nice little fish, all for you.”
“Stop it Greg. The cat doesn’t want to come out. Better throw away that smelly stuff and sort out the comp. It’s messed up, completely messed up, and would not listen to me at all.”
“Linda, give me a break. PLEASE.” – The “please” had the steely sound of order.
She sighed and turned back to face the computer screen. It was like that for most of the last two weeks, since they had managed to extend the quantum physics laws to larger objects. They will surely get the Nobel prize for that. And surely that will be in the not-so-distant future. The only difficulty was to survive till then. That is, to keep alive until someone would start worrying about them and would come to check on them in this secluded place. To understand what had gone so badly wrong had only a second priority.
“My dear lady” - the computer had chosen a housemaid voice – “your tea has just boiled. Camomile, GM peas, garden mint and a pinch of coconut flour. No, of course you didn’t ask for tea.” – The comp changed the voice to that of a TV reporter – “But when my electronic currents interfered with your brain patterns, the resulting picture showed a distinctive maximum for tea with these particular ingredients. That clearly proves my tea point.”
Linda closed her eyes. Here was problem number one. The comp, now with a quantum extension, was in charge of the house. Even the fridge had no manual opening function. For the last two weeks they barely managed to survive on a few meagre and barely edible portions. And what the hell was this machine talking about? The quantum extension was supposed to make the comp more sensitive to its subordinates, that is to the software elements in the household, including aircons, kitchen stuff, water supplies, etc. It should have made such links instant and most importantly, impossible to fake, intercept, or misinterpret. Instead they were dealing with interference, interception, and interpretation of the human brain patterns, wishes, emotional states, and dreams. Linda cursed once again the stupidity of that particular IT guy who has long time ago let go of the good old on/off power button on the comp.
“Statistics show that humans with an optimistic attitude live on average ten years longer.” – the comp’s voice now imitated a TV advertisement.
Linda gathered her will, and decided to keep herself as busy as possible. She looked at Greg who was still fighting with their second problem.
This second problem was the cat. Max was the only other object that received a quantum extension, and the first and only living quantum creature in the world. Greg was particularly determined on this experiment and even now wouldn’t admit that something went badly wrong with it. Most amazingly the cat went through the quantum enlargement process calmly and without obvious changes as far as they could see. Nevertheless, both of them were convinced that the cat has indeed become a quantum being. Well, for one thing, the comp suddenly started preparing cat food five times per day, and for all of them. Fortunately the old Max had an imaginative taste, so milk, cheese, raw chicken and fish (the smelly little ones) were served rather regularly together with dry pellets of cat food. That was indeed infuriating, taking into account that for the last two weeks they’ve never managed to get even a small portion of decent human food.
“Come out little pussy cat. Come out, little rascal. I want you here right now.” – Greg was holding the electrodes of the brain scanner in one hand and trying to catch Max with the other. He obviously wanted to register specific brain patterns, and may be hoped to find the patterns for “cheese”, “milk”, and with a bit of luck to discover “grilled chicken”.
Max of course would come out only when he wanted to, and that was certainly not now. Linda closed her eyes. It seemed very likely that they will not make it. Their idea of getting away from the world and concentrating on the last bit of the quantum enlargement process, worked miracles in terms of the actual discovery. But then it backfired at them. The permanent state of hunger and worries had made Linda weak and indecisive. She suspected that even her brain was not working as logically as it should anymore. On the contrary Greg seemed to be burning with energy, or perhaps with furry. He was more set than ever on giving orders and requiring instant obedience. None of this worked.
Linda waked up from a tickling on her cheek. Her head was lying on her bent elbow on top of the desk in front of the comp’s monitor. Max was sniffing around her, and his moustache tickled her. Drowsy from sleep Linda’s brain was still somewhere else. She was now watching the big yellow eyes of the cat and suddenly she felt herself sinking into something. That something she would later describe as the quantum wiring of the universe. A net of invisible links between everything and everywhere. Links that were always there, carrying instant information about everything and anything in the universe. And she and Greg and Max were part of this beautifully alive and vibrant quantum net. It was so shocking. Anything and everything in the universe were equal. The big and the small, the far and the near. All linked to each other, all equal partners in the pulsating net of quantum beauty.
This was the end of it all. The death of mankind’s dream of superiority, of mastering the world, of ordering nature and the universal laws. Would humans dare to enter the quantum world? Linda didn’t know.

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Quantum Theories

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.

K is for ... Kaon

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

G is for ... Gluon

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

U is for ... Universe

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

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

A is for ... Act of observation

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

R is for ... Randomness

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

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.

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.

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!

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”.

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.

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.

I is for ... Information

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