Join Brian Greene on a wild ride into the weird realm of quantum physics, which governs the universe on the tiniest of scales. Greene brings quantum mechanics to life in a nightclub like no other, where objects pop in and out of existence, and things over here can affect others over there, instantaneously and without anything crossing the space between them. A century ago, during the initial shots in the quantum revolution, the best minds of a generation—including Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr—squared off in a battle for the soul of physics. How could the rules of the quantum world, which work so well to describe the behavior of individual atoms and their components, conflict so dramatically with the everyday rules that govern people, planets, and galaxies?
Quantum mechanics may be counterintuitive, but it's one of the most successful theories in the history of science, making predictions that have been confirmed to better than one part in a billion, while also launching the technological advances at the heart of modern life, like computers and cell phones. But even today, even with such profound successes, the debate still rages over what quantum mechanics implies for the true nature of reality.
Notes on the DVD: The DVD version of the program stated that one entangled photon is sent from the island of La Palma to the island of Tenerife by laser. The photon is sent via laser-guided telescope. In the DVD version of the program, it appears that the research team led by Anton Zeilinger has successfully teleported photons from La Palma to Tenerife. Although the Zeilinger team has used the method described to teleport photons shorter distances in other locations, as of November 2011, photons have not yet been teleported between La Palma andTenerife. The team plans to continue experiments in the Canary Islands, which attempt to complete the teleportation process there.
THE FABRIC OF THE COSMOS: QUANTUM LEAP
PBS airdate: 11/16/2011
NARRATOR: Lying just beneath everyday reality is a breathtaking world, where much of what we perceive about the universe is wrong. Physicist and best-selling author Brian Greene takes you on a journey that bends the rules of human experience.
BRIAN GREENE (Columbia University): Why don't we ever see events unfold in reverse order? According to the laws of physics, this can happen.
NARRATOR: It's a world that comes to light as we probe the most extreme realms of the cosmos, from black holes to the Big Bang to the very heart of matter, itself.
BRIAN GREENE: I'm going to have what he's having.
NARRATOR: Here, our universe may be one of numerous parallel realities, the three-dimensional world, merely a mirage; the distinction between past, present and future, just an illusion.
BRIAN GREENE: But how could this be? How could we be so wrong about something so familiar?
DAVID GROSS: Does it bother us? Absolutely.
STEVEN WEINBERG (The University of Texas at Austin): There's no principle built into the laws of nature that says theoretical physicists have to be happy.
NARRATOR: It's a game-changing perspective that opens up a whole new world of possibilities. Coming up: the realm of tiny atoms and particles, the quantum realm. The laws here seem impossible...
BRIAN GREENE: There's a sense in which things don't like to be tied down to just one location.
NARRATOR: ...yet they're vital to everything in the universe.
ALLAN ADAMS (Massachusetts Institute of Technology): There's no disagreement between quantum mechanics and any experiment that's ever been done.
NARRATOR: What do they reveal about the nature of reality? Take a Quantum Leap on the Fabric of the Cosmos, right now, on NOVA.
BRIAN GREENE: For thousands of years, we've been trying to unlock the mysteries of how the universe works. And we've done pretty well, coming up with a set of laws that describes the clear and certain motion of galaxies and stars and planets.
But now we know at a fundamental level, things are a lot more fuzzy, because we've discovered a revolutionary new set of laws that have completely transformed our picture of the universe. From outer space, to the heart of New York City, to the microscopic realm, our view of the world has shifted, thanks to these strange and mysterious laws that are redefining our understanding of reality. They are the laws of quantum mechanics.
Quantum mechanics rules over every atom and tiny particle in every piece of matter: in stars and planets, in rocks and buildings, and in you and me.
We don't notice the strangeness of quantum mechanics in everyday life, but it's always there, if you know where to look. You just have to change your perspective and get down to the tiniest of scales, to the level of atoms and the particles inside them.
Down at the quantum level, the laws that govern this tiny realm appear completely different from the familiar laws that govern big, everyday objects. And once you catch a glimpse of them, you never look at the world in quite the same way.
It's almost impossible to picture how weird things can get down at the smallest of scales. But what if you could visit a place like this, where the quantum laws were obvious, where people and objects behave like tiny atoms and particles? You'd be in for quite a show.
Here, objects do things that seem crazy.
I mean, in the quantum world,
BRIAN GREENE 2: There's a sense in which things don't like to be tied down to just one location...
BRIAN GREENE: ...or to follow just one path.
It's almost as if things were in more than one place at time.And what I do here can have an immediate effect somewhere else, even if there's no one there. And here's one of the strangest things of all: if people behaved like the particles inside the atom, then, most of the time, you wouldn't know exactly where they were.
Instead, they could be almost anywhere, until you looked for them.
Hey. I'm going to have what he's having.
So, why do we believe these bizarre laws? Well, for over 75 years, we've been using them to make predictions for how atoms and particles should behave. And in experiment after experiment, the quantum laws have always been right.
ALLAN ADAMS: It's the best theory we have.
SETH LLOYD (Massachusetts Institute of Technology): There are literally billions of pieces of confirming evidence for quantum mechanics.
WALTER LEWIN (Massachusetts Institute of Technology): It has passed so many tests of so many bizarre predictions.
ALLAN ADAMS: There's no disagreement between quantum mechanics and any experiment that's ever been done.
BRIAN GREENE: The quantum laws become most obvious when you get down to tiny scales, like atoms, but consider this: I'm made of atoms; so are you. So is everything else we see in the world around us. So it must be the case that these weird quantum laws are not just telling us about small things, they're telling us about reality.
So how did we discover them, these strange laws that seem to contradict much of what we thought we knew about the universe?
Not long ago, we thought we had it pretty much figured out, the rules that govern how planets orbit the sun, how a ball arcs through the sky, how ripples move across the surface of a pond. These laws were all spelled out in a series of equations called "classical mechanics," and they allowed us to predict the behavior of things with certainty.
It all seemed to be making perfect sense, until about a hundred years ago, when scientists were struggling to explain some unusual properties of light: for example, the kind of light that glowed from gases when they were heated in a glass tube.
When scientists observed this light through a prism, they saw something they'd never expected.
PETER GALISON (Harvard University): If you heated up some gas and looked at it through a prism, it formed lines, not the continuous spectrum that you see projected by a piece of cut glass on your table, but very distinct lines.
DAVID KAISER (Massachusetts Institute of Technology): It wouldn't give out a smear, kind of a complete rainbow of light; it would give out, sort of, pencil beams of light, at very specific colors.
PETER GALISON: And it was something of a mystery, how to understand what was going on.
BRIAN GREENE: An explanation for the mysterious lines of color would come from a band of radical scientists, who, at the beginning of the 20th century, were grappling with the fundamental nature of the physical world.
And some of the most startling insights came from the mind of Niels Bohr, a physicist who loved to discuss new ideas over ping-pong. Bohr was convinced that the solution to the mystery lay at the heart of matter itself, in the structure of the atom.
He thought that atoms resembled tiny solar systems, with even tinier particles called electrons orbiting around a nucleus, much the way the planets orbit around the sun.
But Bohr proposed that, unlike the solar system, electrons could not move in just any orbit, instead, only certain orbits were allowed.
PETER GALISON: And he had a, a really surprising and completely counter physical idea, which was that there were definite states, fixed orbits that these electrons could have, and only those orbits.
BRIAN GREENE: Bohr said that when an atom was heated, its electrons would become agitated and leap from one fixed orbit to another. Each downward leap would emit energy, in the form of light in very specific wavelengths. And that's why atoms produce very specific colors. This is where we get the phrase "quantum leap."
S. JAMES GATES, JR. (University of Maryland): If it weren't for the quantum leap, you would have this schmear of color coming out from an atom as it got excited or de-excited. But that's not what we see in the laboratory. You see very sharp reds and very sharp greens. It's the quantum leap that's the origin and the author of that sharp color.
BRIAN GREENE: What made the quantum leap so surprising was that the electron goes directly from here to there, seemingly without moving through the space in between.
It was as if Mars suddenly popped from its own orbit out to Jupiter.
Bohr argued that the quantum leap arises from a fundamental, and fundamentally weird, property of electrons in atoms: that their energy comes in discrete chunks that cannot be subdivided, specific minimum quantities called "quanta." And that's why there are only discrete, specific orbits that electrons can occupy.
DAVID KAISER: An electron had to be here or there and simply nowhere in between. And that's, that's like nothing we experience in everyday life.
WALTER LEWIN: Think of your daily life. When you eat food, you think your food is quantized? Do you think that you have to take a certain amount of minimum food? Food is not quantized. But the energy of electrons in an atom are quantized. That is very mysterious, why that is.
BRIAN GREENE: As mysterious as it might be, the evidence quickly mounted showing that Bohr was right. Electrons followed a different set of rules than planets or ping-pong balls.
Bohr's discovery was a game changer. And with this new picture of the atom, Bohr and his colleagues found themselves on a collision course with the accepted laws of physics.
The quantum leap was just the beginning. Soon, Bohr's radical views would bring him head to head with one of the greatest physicists in history.
Albert Einstein was not afraid of new ideas. But during the 1920s, the world of quantum mechanics began to veer in a direction Einstein did not want to go, a direction that sharply diverged from the absolute, definitive predictions that were the hallmark of classical physics.
MAX TEGMARK (Massachusetts Institute of Technology): If you asked Einstein or other physicists, at the time, what it was that distinguished physics from all kind of flaky speculation, they would have said it's that we can predict things with certainty. And quantum mechanics seemed to pull the rug out from under that.
BRIAN GREENE: One test in particular, which would come to be known as the double slit experiment, exposed quantum mysteries like no other.
If you were looking for a description of reality based on certainty, your expectations would be shattered.
We can get a pretty good feel for the double slit experiment and how dramatically it alters our picture of reality, by carrying out a similar experiment, not on the scale of tiny particles, but on the scale of more ordinary objects, like those you'd find here in a bowling alley.
But first I need to make a couple of adjustments to the lane.
You'd expect that if I roll a few of these balls down the lane, they'll either be stopped by the barrier or pass through one or the other slit and hit the screen at the back. And in fact, that's just what happens. Those balls that make it through always hit the screen directly behind either the left slit or the right slit.
The double slit experiment was much like this, except, instead of bowling balls, you use electrons, which are billions of times smaller.
You can picture them like this. Let's see what happens if I throw a bunch of these balls.
When electrons are hurled at the two slits, something very different happens on the other side. Instead of hitting just two areas, the electrons land all over the detector screen, creating a pattern of stripes, including some right between the two slits, the very place you'd think would be blocked. So, what's going on?
Well, to physicists, even in the 1920s, this pattern could mean only one thing: waves. Waves do all kinds of interesting things, things that bowling balls would never do. They can split, they can combine.
If I sent a wave of water through the double slits, it would split in two, and then the two sets of waves would intersect. Their peaks and valleys would combine, getting bigger in some places, smaller in others, and sometimes they'd cancel each other out.
With the height of the water corresponding to brightness on the screen, the peaks and valleys would create a series of stripes, in what is known as an interference pattern. So how could electrons, which are particles, form that pattern? How could a single electron end up in places a wave would go?
LEONARD SUSSKIND (Stanford University): Particles are particles; waves are waves. How can a particle be a wave?
S. JAMES GATES, JR.: Unless you give up the idea that it's a particle, and think, "Aha, this thing that I thought was a particle was actually a wave."
LEONARD SUSSKIND: A wave in an ocean, that's not a particle. The ocean is made out of particles, but the waves in the ocean are not particles. And rocks are not waves, rocks are rocks. So a rock is an example of a particle, an ocean wave is an example of an ocean wave, and now somebody's telling you a rock is like an ocean wave. What?
BRIAN GREENE: Back in the 1920s, when a version of this experiment was first done, scientists struggled to understand this wavy behavior. Some wondered if a single electron, while in motion, might spread out into a wave. And the physicist Erwin Schrí¶dinger came up with an equation that seemed to describe it.
STEVEN WEINBERG: Schrí¶dinger thought that this wave was a description of an extended electron, that, somehow, an electron got smeared out, and it was no longer a point, but was like a moosh.
PETER GALISON: There was a lot of argument about exactly what this represented. Finally, a physicist named Max Born came up with a new and revolutionary idea for what the wave equation described.
BRIAN GREENE: Born said that the wave is not a smeared out electron or anything else previously encountered in science. Instead, he declared it something that's really peculiar: a "probability wave." That is, Born argued that the size of the wave at any location predicts the likelihood of the electron being found there.
STEVEN WEINBERG: Where the wave is big, that's not where most of the electron is, that's where the electron is most likely to be.
DAVID KAISER: And that's just very strange, right? So the electron, on its own, seems to be a jumble of possibilities.
PETER FISHER (Massachusetts Institute of Technology): You're not allowed to ask, "Where is the electron right now?" You are allowed to ask, "If I look for the electron in this little particular part of space, what is the likelihood I will find it there?" Well, I mean, that bugs anyone, anytime.
BRIAN GREENE: As weird as it sounds, this new way of describing how particles like electrons move, is actually right. When I throw a single electron, I can never predict where it will land, but if I use Schrí¶dinger's equation to find the electron's probability wave, I can predict, with great certainty, that if I throw enough electrons, then, say 33.1 percent of them would end up here, 7.9 percent would end up there, and so on.
These kinds of predictions have been confirmed again and again by experiments.
And so, the equations of quantum mechanics turn out to be amazingly accurate and precise, so long as you can accept that it's all about probability. If you think that probability means we're reduced to guessing, the casinos of Las Vegas are ready to prove you wrong.
Try your hand at any one of these games of chance, and you can see the power of probability.
Let's say I place a $20 bet on number 29, here at the roulette table. The house doesn't know whether I'll win on this spin or the next or the next.
BRIAN GREENE: But it does know the probability that I'll win. In this game it's one in 38.
BRIAN GREENE: So, even though I may win now and then, in the long run, the house always takes in more than it loses.
The point is the house doesn't have to know the outcome of any single card game, roll of the dice or spin of the roulette wheel. Casinos can still be confident that over the course of thousands of spins, deals and rolls, they will win. And they can predict with exquisite accuracy exactly how often.
According to quantum mechanics, the world itself is a game of chance much like this.
All the matter in the universe is made of atoms and subatomic particles that are ruled by probability, not certainty.
ED FARHI (Massachusetts Institute of Technology): At base, nature is described by an inherently probabilistic theory. And that is highly counterintuitive and something which many people would find difficult accepting.
BRIAN GREENE: One person who found it difficult was Einstein. Einstein could not believe that the fundamental nature of reality, at the deepest level, was determined by chance.
WALTER LEWIN: And this is what Einstein could not accept. Einstein said, "God does not throw dice." He didn't like the idea that we couldn't with certainty say this happens or that happens.
BRIAN GREENE: But a lot of other physicists weren't so put off by probability, because the equations of quantum mechanics gave them the power to predict the behavior of groups of atoms and tiny particles with astounding precision.
Before long, that power would lead to some very big inventions: lasers, transistors, the integrated circuit, the entire field of electronics.
MAX TEGMARK: If quantum mechanics suddenly went on strike, every single machine that we have in the U.S., almost, would stop functioning.
BRIAN GREENE: The equations of quantum mechanics would help engineers design microscopic switches that direct the flow of tiny electrons and control virtually every one of today's computers, digital cameras and telephones.
ALLAN ADAMS: All the devices that we live on, diodes, transistors...just...that form the basis of information technology, the basis of daily life in all sorts of ways, they work. And why do they work? They work because of quantum mechanics.
STEVEN WEINBERG: I'm tempted to say that without quantum mechanics, we'd be back in the Dark Ages, but I guess, more accurately, without quantum mechanics, we'd be back in the 19th century: steam engines, telegraph signals...
MAX TEGMARK: Quantum mechanics is the most successful theory that we physicists have ever discovered. And yet, we're still arguing about what it means, what it tells us about the nature of reality.
BRIAN GREENE: In spite of all of its triumphs, quantum mechanics remains deeply mysterious.
It makes all this stuff run, but we still haven't answered basic questions raised by Albert Einstein all the way back in the 1920s and 30s; questions involving probability and measurement; the act of observation.
For Niels Bohr, measurement changes everything. He believed that before you measured or observed a particle, its characteristics were uncertain. For example, an electron in the double slit experiment: before the detector at the back pinpoints its location, it could be almost anywhere, with a whole range of possibilities. Until the moment you observe it, and only at that point, will the location's uncertainty disappear.
According to Bohr's approach to quantum mechanics, when you measure a particle, the act of measurement forces the particle to relinquish all of the possible places it could have been and select one definite location where you find it. The act of measurement is what forces the particle to make that choice.
Niels Bohr accepted that the nature of reality was inherently fuzzy, but not Einstein. He believed in certainty, not just when something is measured or looked at, but all the time. As Einstein said, "I like to think the moon is there even when I'm not looking at it."
DAVID KAISER: That's what Einstein was, was so upset about. Do we really think the reality of the universe rests on whether or not we happen to open our eyes? That's just bizarre.
Einstein was convinced something was missing from quantum theory, something that would describe all the detailed features of particles, like their location even when you were not looking at them. But at the time, few physicists shared his concern. And Einstein just thought it was giving up on the job of the physicist. It wasn't bad physics, per se, it just was totally incomplete.
PETER GALISON: That's Einstein's refrain: quantum mechanics is not incorrect, it's, as far as, in so far as it goes, but it's incomplete. It doesn't capture all of the things that can be said or predicted with certainty.
BRIAN GREENE: Despite Einstein's arguments, Niels Bohr remained unmoved. When Einstein repeated that "God does not play dice," Bohr responded, "Stop telling God what to do."
But in 1935, Einstein thought he'd finally found the Achilles heel of quantum mechanics, something so strange, so counter to all logical views of the universe, he thought it held the key to proving the theory was incomplete.
It's called "entanglement."
WALTER LEWIN: The most bizarre, the most absurd, the most crazy, the most ridiculous prediction that quantum mechanics makes is entanglement.
BRIAN GREENE: Entanglement is a theoretical prediction that comes from the equations of quantum mechanics. Two particles can become "entangled," if they're close together, and their properties become linked. Remarkably, quantum mechanics says that even if you separated those particles, sending them in opposite directions, they could remain entangled, inextricably connected.
To understand how profoundly weird this is, consider a property of electrons called "spin." Unlike a spinning top, an electron's spin, as with other quantum qualities, is generally completely fuzzy and uncertain, until the moment you measure it. And when you do, you'll find it's either spinning clockwise or counterclockwise. It's kind of like this wheel. When it stops turning, it will randomly land on either red or blue.
Now, imagine a second wheel. If these two wheels behaved like two entangled electrons, then every time one landed red the other is guaranteed to land on blue, and vice-versa.
Now, since the wheels are not connected, that's suspicious enough. But the quantum mechanics embraced by Niels Bohr and his colleagues went even further, predicting that if one of the pair were far away, even on the moon, with no wires or transmitters connecting them, still, if you look at one and find red, the other is sure to be blue. In other words, if you measured a particle here, not only would you affect it, but your measurement would also affect its entangled partner, no matter how distant.
For Einstein, that kind of weird long-range connection between spinning wheels or particles was so ludicrous that he called it spooky: "spooky action at a distance."
ALAIN ASPECT (Institut d'Optique, Palaiseau): When you have one particle here and one particle there, and they are separated enough that there is no signal able to allow them to communicate, and they still seem to be talking to each other, that is a big mystery.
STEVEN WEINBERG: What's surprising is that, when you make a measurement of one particle, you affect the state of the other particle. You change its state.
DAVID KAISER: There's no forces or pulleys or, you know, telephone wires. There's nothing connecting those things, right? How could my choice to act here have anything to do with what happens over there?
WALTER LEWIN: So there's no way they can communicate with each other, so it is completely bizarre.
Einstein just could not accept that entanglement worked this way, convincing himself that only the math was weird, not reality.
BRIAN GREENE: He agreed that entangled particles could exist, but he thought there was a simpler explanation for why they were linked that did not involve a mysterious long-distance connection. Instead, he insisted that entangled particles were more like a pair of gloves.
Imagine someone separates the two gloves, putting each in a case. Then that person delivers one of those cases to me and sends the other case to Antarctica.
Before I look inside my case, I know it has either a left-hand or a right-hand glove. And when I open my case, if I find a left-hand glove, then, at that instant, I'll know the case in Antarctica must contain a right-hand glove, even though no one has looked inside.
There's nothing mysterious about this. Obviously, by looking inside the case, I've not affected either glove. This case has always had a left-hand glove, and the one in Antarctica has always had a right-hand glove. That was set from the moment the gloves were separated and packed away.
Now, Einstein thought that exactly the same idea applies to entangled particles. Whatever configuration the electrons are in must have been fully determined from the moment that they flew apart.
ALAIN ASPECT: Einstein comes and says, "Look, if there is a strong relation, it means that the direction of the spins were already determined before you do the measurement."
BRIAN GREENE: So who was right?
Bohr, who championed the equations that said that particles were like spinning wheels that could immediately link their random results, even across great distances? Or Einstein, who believed there was no "spooky" connection, but instead, everything was decided well before you looked?
Well, the big challenge in figuring out who was right, Bohr or Einstein, is that Einstein is saying a particle, say, has a definite spin before you measure it. "How do you check that?" you say to Einstein. He says, "Well, measure it, and you'll find the definite spin." Bohr would say, "But it's the act of measurement that brought that spin to a definite state."
No one knew how to resolve the problem. So the whole question came to be considered philosophy, not science.
In 1955, Einstein died, still convinced that quantum mechanics offered, at best, an incomplete picture of reality.
In 1967, at Columbia University, Einstein's mission to challenge quantum mechanics was taken up by an unlikely recruit. John Clauser was on the verge of earning a Ph.D. in astrophysics. The only thing standing in his way was his grade in quantum mechanics.
JOHN CLAUSER (J. F. Clauser & Associates): When I was still a graduate student, try as I might, I could not understand quantum mechanics.
BRIAN GREENE: Clauser was wondering if Einstein might be right, when he made a life-altering discovery. It was an obscure paper by a little known Irish physicist named John Bell. Amazingly, Bell seemed to have found a way to break the deadlock between Einstein and Bohr and show, once and for all, who was right about the universe.
JOHN CLAUSER: I was convinced that the quantum mechanical view was probably wrong.
BRIAN GREENE: Reading the paper, Clauser saw that Bell had discovered how to tell if entangled particles were really communicating through spooky action, like matching spinning wheels, or if there was nothing spooky at all and the particles were already set in their ways, like a pair of gloves.
What's more, with some clever mathematics, Bell showed that if spooky action were not at work, then quantum mechanics wasn't merely incomplete, as Einstein thought, it was wrong.
JOHN CLAUSER: I came to the conclusion that, "My god, this is one of the most profound results I've ever seen."
BRIAN GREENE: Bell was a theorist, but his paper showed that the question could be decided, if you could build a machine that created and compared many pairs of entangled particles.
ALLAN ADAMS: Bell turned the question into an experimental question.
DAVID KAISER: It wasn't just going to be about philosophy or, or trading pieces of paper.
ALLAN ADAMS: And the experiment that he envisioned could be done.
DAVID KAISER: You could really set up an actual experiment to, to force the issue.
BRIAN GREENE: Clauser set about constructing a machine that would finally settle the debate.
JOHN CLAUSER: Now, I was just this punk graduate student at the time. This really seemed like, "Wow!" There's always the slim chance that you will find a result that will shake the world.
BRIAN GREENE: Clauser's machine could measure thousands of pairs of entangled particles and compare them in many different directions. As the results started coming in, Clauser was surprised and not happy.
JOHN CLAUSER: I kept asking myself, "What have I done wrong? What mistakes have I made in this?"
BRIAN GREENE: Clauser repeated his experiments, and soon French physicist Alain Aspect developed some even more sophisticated tests.
In Aspect's test, the only way that measuring one of the particles could directly influence the other would be for a signal to travel between them faster than the speed of light, something Einstein himself had shown impossible. The only remaining explanation was spooky action, and so Aspect's experiment removed virtually all doubt.
ALAIN ASPECT: Quantum mechanics is true, even in the most mysterious and the most weird situation.
BRIAN GREENE: The results of these experiments are truly shocking. They prove that the math of quantum mechanics is right. Entanglement is real. Quantum particles can be linked across space. Measuring one thing can, in fact, instantly affect its distant partner, as if the space between them didn't even exist.
The one thing that Einstein thought was impossible, spooky action at a distance, actually happens.
JOHN CLAUSER: I was again very saddened that I had not overthrown quantum mechanics, because I still had, and to this day, still have, great difficulty in understanding it.
WALTER LEWIN: That is the most bizarre thing of quantum mechanics. It is impossible to even comprehend. Don't even ask me why. Don't ask me—which you're going to—how it works, because it's an illegal question. All we can say is that is apparently the way the world ticks.
BRIAN GREENE: So, if we accept that the world really does tick in this bizarre way, could we ever harness the long-distance spooky action of entanglement to do something useful?
Well, one dream has been to somehow transport people and things from one place to another without crossing the space in between, in other words, teleportation.
STAR TREK CLIP Beam me aboard!
BRIAN GREENE: Star Trek has always made beaming, or teleporting, look pretty convenient. It seems like pure science fiction, but could entanglement make it possible?
Remarkably, tests are already underway, here on the Canary Islands, off the coast of Africa.
ANTON ZEILINGER (University of Vienna): We do the experiments here, on the Canary Islands, because you have two observatories. And, after all, it's a nice environment.
BRIAN GREENE: Anton Zeilinger is a long way from teleporting himself or any other human. But he is trying to use quantum entanglement to teleport tiny individual particles, in this case, photons, particles of light.
He starts by generating a pair of entangled photons in a lab on the island of La Palma. One entangled photon stays on La Palma, while the other is sent by laser-guided telescope to the island of Tenerife, 89 miles away.
Next, Zeilinger brings in a third photon, the one he wants to teleport, and has it interact with the entangled photon on La Palma.
The team studies the interaction, comparing the quantum states of the two particles. And here's the amazing part. Because of spooky action, the team is able to use that comparison to transform the entangled photon on the distant island into an identical copy of that third photon.
It will be as if the third photon has teleported across the sea, without traversing the space between the islands.
ANTON ZEILINGER: We, sort of, extract the information carried by the original and make a new original there.
BRIAN GREENE: Using this technique, Zeilinger has successfully teleported dozens of particles. But could this go even further?
Since we're made of particles, could this process make human teleportation possible one day?
ATTENDANT: Welcome to New York City.
BRIAN GREENE: Let's say I want to get to Paris for a quick lunch. Well, in theory, entanglement might someday make that possible. Here's what I'd need. A chamber or particles here in New York that's entangled with another chamber of particles in Paris.
ATTENDANT: Right this way, Mr. Greene.
BRIAN GREENE: I would step into a pod that acts sort of like a scanner or fax machine. While the device scans the huge number of particles in my body—more particles than there are stars in the observable universe—it's jointly scanning the particles in the other chamber. And it creates a list that compares the quantum state of the two sets of particles. And here's where entanglement comes in. Because of spooky action at a distance, that list also reveals how the original state of my particles is related to the state of the particles in Paris.
Next, the operator sends that list to Paris. There they use the data to reconstruct the exact quantum state of every single one of my particles.
And a new me materializes.
It's not that the particles traveled from New York to Paris. It's that entanglement allows my quantum state to be extracted in New York and reconstituted in Paris, down to the last particle.
ATTENDANT: Bonjour, Monsieur Greene.
BRIAN GREENE: Hi, there.
So, here I am in Paris, an exact replica of myself. And I'd better be, because measuring the quantum states of all my particles in New York has destroyed the original me.
EDWARD FARHI: It is absolutely required in the quantum teleportation protocol that the thing that is teleported is destroyed in the process. And you know, that does make you a little anxious.
I guess you would just end up being a lump of neutrons, protons and electrons. You wouldn't look too good.
BRIAN GREENE: Now, we are a long way from human teleportation today, but the possibility raises a question: is the Brian Greene who arrives in Paris really me?
Well, there should be no difference between the old me in New York and the new me, here in Paris. And the reason is that, according to quantum mechanics, it's not the physical particles that make me me, it's the information those particles contain. And that information has been teleported exactly, for all the trillions of trillions of particles that make up my body.
ANTON ZEILINGER: It is a very deep philosophical question, whether what arrives at the receiving station is the original or not. My position is that, by "original" we mean something which has all the properties of the original. And if this is the case, then it is the original.
JOHN CLAUSER: I wouldn't step into that machine.
BRIAN GREENE: Whether or not human teleportation ever becomes a reality, the fuzzy uncertainty of quantum mechanics has all sorts of other potential applications.
Here at M.I.T., Seth Lloyd is one of many researchers trying to harness quantum mechanics in powerful new ways.
SETH LLOYD: Quantum mechanics is weird. That's just the way it is. So, you know, life is dealing us weird lemons, can we make some weird lemonade from this?
BRIAN GREENE: Lloyd's weird lemonade comes in the form of a quantum computer.
These are the guts of a quantum computer. This gold and brass contraption might not look anything like your familiar laptop, but at its heart, it speaks the same language, binary code, a computer language spelled out in zeros and ones, called bits.
SETH LLOYD: So the smallest chunk of information is a bit. And what a computer does is simply busts up the information into the smallest chunks, and then flips them really, really, really rapidly.
BRIAN GREENE: This quantum computer speaks in bits, but unlike a conventional bit, which at any moment can be either zero or one, a quantum bit is much more flexible.
SETH LLOYD: You know, something here can be a bit. Here is zero, there is one. That's a bit of information. So if you can have something that's here and there at the same time, then you have a quantum bit, or qubit.
BRIAN GREENE: Just as an electron can be a fuzzy mixture of spinning clockwise and counterclockwise, a quantum bit can be a fuzzy mixture of being a zero and a one, and so a qubit can multitask.
SETH LLOYD: Then it means you can do computations in ways that our classical brains could not have dreamed of.
BRIAN GREENE: In theory, quantum bits could be made from anything that acts in a quantum way, like an electron or an atom. Since quantum bits are so good at multi-tasking, if we can figure out how to get qubits to work together to solve problems, our computing power could explode exponentially.
To get a feel for why a quantum computer would be so powerful, imagine being trapped in the middle of a hedge maze. What you'd want is to find the way out, as fast as possible. The problem is there are so many options.
And I just have to try them out, one at a time. That means I'm going to hit lots of dead ends, go down lots of blind alleys, and make lots of wrong turns before I'd finally get lucky and find the exit.
And that's pretty much how today's computers solve problems. Though they do it very quickly, they only carry out one task at a time, just like I can only investigate one path at a time, in the maze.
But, if I could try all of the possibilities at once, it would be a different story. And that's kind of how quantum computing works.
Since particles can, in a sense, be in many places at once, the computer could investigate a huge number of paths or solutions at the same time, and find the correct one in a snap.
Now a maze like this only has a limited number of routes to explore, so even a conventional computer could find the way out pretty quickly. But imagine a problem with millions or billions of variables, like predicting the weather far in advance. We might be able to forecast natural disasters, like earthquakes or tornados.
Solving that kind of problem right now would be impossible, because it would take a ridiculously huge computer. But a quantum computer could get the job done with just a few hundred atoms. And so, the brain of that computer, it would be smaller than a grain of sand.
There's no doubt, we're getting better and better at harnessing the power of the quantum world, and who knows where that could take us? But we can't forget that at the heart of this theory, which has given us so much, there is still a gaping hole: all the weirdness down at the quantum level, at the scale of atoms and particles, where does the weirdness go?
Why can things in the quantum world hover in a state of uncertainty, seemingly being partly here and partly there, with so many possibilities, while you and I, who, after all, are made of atoms and particles, seem to always be stuck in a single definite state. We are always either here or there.
Niels Bohr offered no real explanation for why all the weird fuzziness of the quantum world seems to vanish as things increase in size. As powerful and accurate as quantum mechanics has proven to be, scientists are still struggling to figure this out.
Some believe that there is some detail missing in the equations of quantum mechanics. And so, even though there are multiple possibilities in the tiny world, the missing details would adjust the numbers on our way up from atoms to objects in the big world, so that
it would become clear that all but one of those possibilities disappear, resulting in a single, certain outcome.
Other physicists believe that all the possibilities that exist in the quantum world, they never do go away.
Instead, each and every possible outcome actually happens, only most of them happen in other universes, parallel to our own. It's a mind-blowing idea, but reality could go beyond the one universe we all see, and be constantly branching off, creating new, alternative worlds, where every possibility gets played out.
This is the frontier of quantum mechanics, and no one knows where it will lead.
MAX TEGMARK: The very fact that our reality is much grander than we thought, much more strange and mysterious than we thought, is to me also very beautiful and awe inspiring.
ED FARHI: The beauty of science is that it allows you to learn things which go beyond your wildest dreams, and quantum mechanics is the epitome of that.
STEVEN WEINBERG: After you learn quantum mechanics, you're never really the same again.
BRIAN GREENE: As strange as quantum mechanics may be, what's now clear is that there's no boundary between the worlds of the tiny and the big. Instead, these laws apply everywhere, and it's just that their weird features are most apparent when things are small.
And so, the discovery of quantum mechanics has revealed a reality, our reality, that is both shocking and thrilling, bringing us that much closer to fully understanding the fabric of the cosmos.
THE FABRIC OF THE COSMOS: QUANTUM LEAP
PBS airdate: 11/16/2011
HOSTED BY Brian Greene BASED ON THE BOOK The Fabric of the Cosmos SENIOR PRODUCER Jonathan Sahula SERIES EXECUTIVE PRODUCER Joseph McMaster PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY Julia Cort and Josh Rosen TELESCRIPT BY Josh Rosen and Julia Cort STORY BY Joseph McMaster and Josh Rosen EXECUTIVE EDITOR Brian Greene EDITED BY Steve Audette DIRECTORS OF PHOTOGRAPHY Mike Coles Stephen McCarthy CREATIVE DIRECTOR & LEAD EDITOR Jonathan Sahula ANIMATION BY Pixeldust Studios ART DIRECTOR Ricardo Andrade VFX PRODUCERS Kelly Andrews
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- Allan Adams, Alain Aspect, John Clauser, Edward Farhi, Peter Fisher, Peter Galison, S. James Gates, Jr., Brian Greene, David Kaiser, Walter Lewin, Seth Lloyd, Leonard Susskind, Max Tegmark, Steven Weinberg, Anton Zeilinger