Schrodinger's Kitty

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                The door slammed shut and I was left in complete darkness. My eyes quickly adjusted to the lack of light. Where was I? I admit, I panicked. I shouted out but the only sound I heard was the echoes of my shrill yowl returning to me. I was clearly alone and my now adjusted eyes told me that I was in a small metal box; no windows, no door that I could see. I began to pace about, my four padded feet echoing off the metal floor, my tail twitching with agitation. This metal bunker which held me captive only allowed me eight steps in any direction. I was furious. Why had Papa Schrödinger put me here? I had never been anything but a good, well behaved feline companion. And then I smelt it...gunpowder!!! My twitching nose led me to the furthest corner of my new prison. It was a small box that stank of gunpowder. I had frequently smelled the same nasty fumes in Schrodinger's workshop. This smell was always associated with death. My mind raced! Was Papa trying to kill me? But why would he go to such extremes to ensure my death?
            'Calm down' I told myself. 'I have lived in the workshop of the great physicist, Erwin Schrödinger. I must be one of the smartest felines on the face of the Earth. So let's think this through logically'. I took a deep breath and organized my thoughts. 'Why had Schrödinger gone to such extremes to ensure my death? It just didn't make sense. I am in a metal bunker without windows. He would not actually know if the gunpowder went off therefore he wouldn't actually know if I was dead or not. For all he knows I could be in some suspended state between life and death!' I chuckled a little bit at the impossibility of this suggestion. I could feel the knot that appeared in my chest the moment I smelt the gunpowder loosen just a little bit. Still chuckling I turned and walked away from the box. I nestled into a corner of the box and wrapped my tail around me. Once comfortable I continue to follow my train of thought. 'So the only way he would know if I was alive or dead would be to look in the bunker. Until he did so, there are would be two possibilities; I am alive or I am dead. I guess the same paradox would exist for me too.  I will either sit here for the foreseeable future staring at an unresponsive box of gunpowder or I will see it explode and I will enter my sixth life.' My brain was beginning to hurt at this point. 'So I guess my situation is really just entangled with the product of Papa's experiment. The experiment ends when Papa actually looks into my bunker.' As I thought and thought, I realized my breakthrough was coming. I could feel it! 'When Schrödinger looks into this bunker, a choice will have been made, one reality will have be chosen. So who or what is watching Papa, forcing him to look or not look into this bunker? That is real question!'
            It was in that moment, that starved, exhausted yet oddly clear state that I realized I had just helped to provide the answer to the question that Papa had been considering. The answer remained unknown but I brought clarity to the situation. This great question of quantum physics to be answered by a lowly kitty in a metal bunker! Elation filled me! Now all Papa had to do was open the box, see me alive and then he too would realize the true meaning of this experiment! I was so content with myself, with our world in general. I closed my eyes, thinking of the excitement that would fill Papa's eyes when he opened the box. The sweet tingle of sleep was taking over my sleek body when my sixth sense kicked in and my eyes flew open.
            I saw the gunpowder explode and my life flashed before my eyes just as stories and myths of life tell us. I saw my kitten years, all ears and paws and tail. Then I saw my life on the street; always cold and hungry. My mother dead, abandoned by my father.  I was helpless and ready to move on. But who to my surprise would gather me up in his arms but the great physicist, Erwin Schrödinger and what I life I lead. Surrounded by Papa's great work, I became the most intelligent and of course the modest feline to walk this earth. What a great few years! What a life!  Soaking up his knowledge, listening to the great academics of our time, and enjoying the high life. And where has this life led ? My ultimate demise in a bunker for the sole purpose of research. But you know what? I am happy to give my life to science, to give back to my Papa, to aid in his important research. A complex, entangled problem of quantum physics and I will have forced a reality, brought true clarity. 

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Quantum Theories

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

K is for ... Kaon

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

I is for ... Information

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

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

U is for ... Universe

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

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.

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.

R is for ... Randomness

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

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.

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.

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.

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”.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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 ... 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.

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.

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.

G is for ... Gluon

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

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.

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.