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Using Averages To Bend the Uncertainty Principle 112

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-hear-heisenberg-was-a-good-cook dept.
summerbreeze writes "Researchers at the University of Toronto have conducted a two-slit experiment, published in Science, that uses 'weak measurement' on photons to push back the boundaries of what can be known about them, given the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Jason Palmer does a great job reporting this experiment to us mere mortals in a BBC article: 'The team allowed the photons to pass through a thin sliver of the mineral calcite which gave each photon a tiny nudge in its path, with the amount of deviation dependent on which slit it passed through. By averaging over a great many photons passing through the apparatus, and only measuring the light patterns on a camera, the team was able to infer what paths the photons had taken. While they were able to easily observe the interference pattern indicative of the wave nature of light, they were able also to see from which slits the photons had come, a sure sign of their particle nature."
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Using Averages To Bend the Uncertainty Principle

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  • Re:I don't get it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) on Saturday June 04, 2011 @03:28PM (#36337914) Homepage

    That's the idea of quantum physics : particles or waves don't move on any specific path, they move on all possible paths between 2 points. But once anything interacts with them the "potential history" function collapses, and they have taken one specific path, which had only one specific set of events taken place.

    So photons only go through both slits in the function that describes their movement, not in reality. It's just that the only way to describe their behavior is to assume they go through both slits, because we can't measure these things without disturbing them.

    Why not ? Well imagine you have to determine if it's the national holiday in India (they have a big elephant parade). But you don't actually have any tools smaller than elephants to measure this. So every hour or so you catapult an elephant into the main street of New Delhi, and you see if the elephant hits the detector you've set up at the other end of that street. Obviously any "detected" elephant will not be unaffected, and won't ever get to the place where the parade elephants normally end up, and your interference pattern will be gone. Now s/elephants/photons/ and you have the problem of quantum physics (and yes this is a simplification).

    Now what these scientists did is they place an "elephant guide" (say a slide) in front of one of the two slits, which does not really affect the elephants, but it does alter their path a little bit, and this is reflected in the position the elephant hits the plate behind the detector. Now they know (not for certain, but better than 50%) which slit the elephant went through, yet they have managed to avoid totally destroying the normal path the elephants take, so the elephants from both slits are still in a position to interact.

    A (very) nice video about this : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfPeprQ7oGc [youtube.com]

  • Re:I don't get it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Savantissimo (893682) on Saturday June 04, 2011 @07:50PM (#36339280) Journal

    That's much better than the original explanation. To boil it down even further, quanta are waves when they are going somewhere (propagating) and particles when they get there (interacting). Each photon does actually go through both slits, which isn't a problem because it's a wave. When it hits the screen, it interacts in an all-or nothing, localized fashion, which gives the appearance of a particle.

    The interesting thing about this experiment is that it further demonstrates that there is a continuum between particle and wave, interaction and propagation, but that this can only be shown as a statistical effect using many observations.

  • that it has its own mathematical formalism (commutativity of operators) It's the commutators that matter. Let u and v be the operators for position and momentum in the same direction (plus or minus). Then the commutator is uv-vu. As the operators do not commute, the difference is not zero. Hence, we get the uncertainty principle.

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