Physics Blog
All about Physics

“Quantum mechanics is one of the most philosophically profound and counterintuitive ideas that humanity has ever encountered. It has stood the test of time not because of its beauty, elegance, or the compelling nature of the theory, but rather because its results agree with experiment. Quantum physics was only reluctantly embraced by a great many scientists because of how divorced its rules are not only from our own experience, but of one of the great ideas of science: that we can learn the rules of nature to make accurate predictions about our own future. There’s a fundamental limit to our predictive ability, and quantum physics is what dictates that limit.

It is not the job of physics to make you comfortable with the Universe; its role is to describe reality. In that, quantum physics is an unparalleled success. But philosophically, what Bohr said all those years ago, ‘Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it,’ is still true.”

Quantum physics is weird. Part of why it met with such resistance is that it’s so divorced from our normal experience, and so counterintuitive as far as what it predicts. This was illustrated beautifully by the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen (EPR) paradox, which appeared to show a contradiction: two entangled particles, separated by great distances, appeared to ‘know’ whether the other one was measured or not, at least as far as statistical outcomes go. Yet that would result in a transmission of information faster-than-light, a no-go in relativity.

Well, that paradox is only a true paradox if you apply classical laws to the Universe. Bell’s inequality, developed in the 1960s, showed that there’s a difference between what quantum mechanics predicts and what a theory of local, hidden, deterministic variables predicts.

“If you accept that inflation is a stage that occurred in the Universe’s past prior to the hot Big Bang, and that the Universe itself is inherently quantum in nature, the existence of a multiverse is unavoidable. Even though we cannot observe these other Universes, we can observe a huge amount of evidence for inflation, indirectly pointing to its inevitability. We can also observe a huge amount of evidence that the Universe itself is quantum, even though we have no proof that inflation itself behaves as a quantum field. If you put these pieces together, it unambiguously leads to the prediction that our Universe should be only one of countlessly many Universes, all embedded in an eternally inflating, expanding background. One Universe is not enough. Even though we cannot detect it, the prediction of a multiverse is unavoidable.”

When Carl Sagan’s Cosmos began, the first words you heard were, “The cosmos is all there is, or was, or will be.” Only… what if it weren’t? What if what we know as our cosmos, i.e., the entire Universe, were only one of countlessly many, all embedded in a strange spacetime that was continuously creating more of them? This sounds like some sort of strange speculation, but it’s actually an unavoidable consequence of two of our best theories put together: cosmic inflation and quantum physics. Combine them, and you get a multiverse.

In linear algebra, an

eigenvectorof a linear transformation is a non-zero vector

that only changes by a scalar factor (itseigenvalue) when that linear transformation is

applied to it.

Now* for the sake of simplicity* lets assume that Energy* as a linear transformation, and when it acts on some position (x1,x2) gives you the energy at that point (e0).

(x1,x2) – Eigenvector, e0 – Eigenvalue.

This e0 that you get is a physical measurable quantity and you do not want this value to be complex. Why ? Complex energies are not a thing of the real world.

And the reason why Hermitian matrices are important in Physics is because if a Matrix is hermitian, then it has real eigenvalues.

Thanks for asking!

* It need not be Energy, it could be any physically measurable quantity. We have just taken energy as an example here.

** A Hermitian matrix (or self-adjoint matrix) is a complex square matrix that is equal to its own conjugate transpose ( A = A ^{†} )

[1] Why on earth is matrix multiplication NOT commutative ? – An Intuition

You might have seen animations like this that show an electron undergoing a transition from a lower energy to a higher energy state and vice versa like so:

There is something really important about this image that one must understand clearly.

The diagram represents the transition in *energy *of an electron BUT this does not mean that the electron

is magically jumping from one position and respawning at another

position.

* The electron’s position is NOT doing this i*

If you want to know about the probability of finding an electron around the nucleus at a certain energy level, you look at its wavefunction and not at the energy diagram.

Here is the wavefunction of a hydrogen atom and each stationary state defines a specific energy

level of the atom.

This might not sound like a big deal but one might be surprised to know that there are a lot of people who think that the electron is magically transported from energy level to another which most certainly is not true.

Have a good one!

– A2A

Can a black hole erase your past?

If a physicist knew exactly how the universe started out, then they would be able to calculate its future for all of space and time. In this universe there is only one future which is uniquely determined by the past. The physical laws of our universe just don’t allow for more than one possible future. But a UC Berkeley mathematician has found some types of black hole where where this law completely breaks down. These claims have been made before but physicists said that a catastrophic event, such as a horrible death, would prevent observers from entering a region of spacetime where their future was not uniquely determined.

Peter Hintz, from UC Berkeley, uses mathematical calculations to show that for some specific types of black hole in a universe is expanding at an accelerating rate, it is possible to survive the passage from a deterministic universe with only one possible future, into a non-deterministic black hole.

If you did manage to travel into one of these benign singularities, then your past would be completely obliterated but it would open you to an infinite number of possible futures.

.

“While the founding fathers agonized over the question “particle or “wave” de Broglie in 1925 proposed the obvious answer “particle” and “wave”.. This idea seems so natural and simple, to resolve the wave-particle dilemma in such a clear and ordinary way, that it is a great mystery to me that it was generally ignored”

– John Stewart Bell from Bell’s Theorem

Now having taken this grand tour in pilot-wave hydrodynamics, one must also be aware of the ongoing controversy that has wrapped around pilot-wave theory over the years.

In the eyes of De Broglie, all this would be a trip down memory lane. In 1927, he proposed an alternate interpretation for quantum mechanics – The pilot wave theory by saying that all particles are accompanied by a pilot wave.

**What on earth does that mean?**

Here is the analogous version of it. Observe this animation carefully:

At first, you just see a wave propagating outwards like when you drop a pebble on a pond.

But when a vibrational excitation is given, that wave is split into two traveling waves moving in opposite directions.

And as you know when two waves traveling in opposite directions are set up just right, you obtain a standing wave pattern.

This is known as a pilot wave (or) wave that pilots/guides the droplet where to go.

**How does it ‘pilot’ the droplet?**

At each bounce, if the droplet is made to land on the ‘incline’ of a standing wave, it would propel the droplet forward at different rates based on the level of incline.

*Think of a ball hitting an inclined plane for reference*

If it were to land on a flat plane, of course, it would just bounce in the same place forever like so:

All this is essential because:

De Broglie said that all particles (electrons, protons, etc) like the droplet are accompanied by physical waves that act like a pilot to guide the particle along the trajectories.

And that the pilot waves spans the entire universe.

In the 1950s Bohm took this interpretation and made it even stronger. This came to be called as pilot wave theory or Bohm-de Broglie theory or just Bohmian Mechanics.

The most satisfying thing about this theory is that it is deterministic, i.e., one can extract sufficient information to plot a particle’s path, something that is not allowed in Bohr’s interpretation of quantum mechanics.

*Bohmian interpretation applied to the Double slit experiment. Notice that the path of the particles is clearly defined and none of the particle paths cross one another but yet one obtains the same interference pattern. *

For the droplet these trajectories looked like this :

All weirdness that encapsulates quantum mechanics such as wave-particle duality, wave function collapse and the paradox of Schrodinger’s cat can be avoided by using Bohmian mechanics *(because it is deterministic)* BUT there is a catch – nonlocality.

The pilot wave idea gives up on locality: meaning that every experiment can only be understood in the context of the entire universe. The “pilot wave” brings information from all over the entire universe to influence the event.

In the series, we talked about the double-slit experiment. But here’s the deal: When you observe each electron as they are passed through the slit, the interference pattern disappears.

*Disappearance of the interference pattern when observed*

The way one explains this through the Bohmian interpretation is that the act of observing must obviously interfere/disturb the wave field. This, as a result, destroys the interference pattern.

Sadly, the reason why Bohmian mechanics is not popular is NOT that it is scientifically inaccurate. It is able to perform equally well as other interpretations out there.

This answer by Thad Roberts does a really good job of explaining why people don’t subscribe to Bohmian mechanics. The major argument is that “It hasn’t produced anything new or predicted something better than the other interpretations.” among other critical factors.

The droplet wave experiments remain as spectacular analogs of the pilot-wave theory at the macroscale.

But thus far, there has been no seminal evidence of pilot waves at the quantum scale.

In addition, the analogs are only capable of describing the simplest of interactions, and phenomena such as quantum entanglement are still an area of active research.

How does one weave together all of these experimental revelations that we have unearthed so far? Is there a much bigger picture of how nature manifests itself that we are yet to comprehend or are we staring at the end of a barrel?

Only time will tell.

Thank you for joining us this week on this amazing journey as we explored the essence of pilot wave hydrodynamics.

If you are thirsty to know more, FYFD will be posting a list of useful resources that we compiled, do take a look at that.

The phenomenon of quantum tunneling is best explained with a narrative:

You are at the bottom of a hill and need to roll a ball up the hill and down the other side.

Classically, the only option is to push the ball all the way up and roll it down. This would be a test of endurance and not to mention physically taxing.

But if you are in the quantum world you can dig a virtual hole and “probably” get to the other side of the mountain without expending as much energy as the classical ‘you’.

This behavior is called ‘tunneling’.

The reason why you would be able to pull this off in a quantum system is that there is a small probability of finding the particle in a certain location that extends to the other side of the hill.

Or if one were to put it more formally:

The wavefunction of the particle is a continous function and it cannot abruptly just collapse near the mountain/wall/barrier.

Instead it decays exponentially inside the barrier and extends onto the far side of the barrier as well.

This implies that there is a finite probability for the particle to tunnel through the barrier and get to the other side.

Since the wavefunction decays exponentially inside the barrier, it is no surprise that thinner the mountain, the better the chances for the particle to tunnel through.

All this while, our discussion was primarily for simple quantum mechanical entities such as electrons, protons and so on.

And even for these systems merely increasing the barrier width would drastically bring down the probability.

Now if we were to scale this up to a system as complex as ours with billions and billions of atoms trying to tunnel through a wall couple of centimeters thick, nature just says ‘Sorry dude, Not gonna happen’.

Okay so maybe not the best way to break out of jail if you are a human I suppose.

But if you were a bouncing droplet, there might still be some hope. Check out the latest FYFD post on Hydrodynamic Quantum tunneling.

*In case you had missed out, here are the previous posts on this collaborative series on Pilot wave Hydrodynamics with FYFD 1) Introduction; 2) Chladni patterns; 3) Faraday instability; 4) Walking droplets; 5) Droplet lattices; 6) Quantum double-slit experiments, 7) Hydrodynamic Single and Double slit experiments*

Say you are a human with a basic understanding of how the world works, i.e., you understand classical mechanics.

You decide to conduct this experiment: take a laser and shine it through a barrier with two slits. You’d expect the resulting pattern would appear something like this:

But this is not what happens! Instead, you notice this weird band pattern.

How could a light source behave like that? So you call upon your friend Dr. Tonomura *(actual physicist)* to conduct this experiment with photons or electrons in his laboratory to see if this behavior is consistent.

He decides to conduct it with electrons and invites you to watch. And to your astonishment, as electrons start hitting the screen you get a pattern similar to the one you got at home.

*Results of a double-slit-experiment performed by showing the build-up of an interference pattern of single electrons. *

*Numbers of electrons are a) 11, b) 200, c) 6000, d) 40000, and e) 140000.*

The pattern*( known as an interference pattern ) *is mysterious but similar to ones you’d seen before.

The other day when you were at the Arboretum you noticed that ripples caused by rocks thrown in the pond behave in the same way and produced the same pattern.

This double slit experiment supports the idea that light is a wave since in the classical sense that you would never see such a behavior from a particle.

But then you also have experiments like the photoelectric effect which is predicated on the particle view.

So are electrons and photons behaving like a wave or a particle? Well… it’s both!

Albert Einstein wrote:

It seems as though we must use sometimes the one theory and sometimes the other, while at times we may use either. We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do.

The interference pattern that we saw earlier was first observed by Thomas Young in the early 1800s. When physicists continued to study the results of the double slit, its variants *(A story for another day)*

* Source; Tout Est Quantique *

Now is it possible to replicate the same bizarre behavior that we have discussed on a macroscopic scale *(say with bouncing droplets)*?

For this, check out the latest FYFD post on hydrodynamic double slit experiment and stay tuned for the next post in this series

*In case you had missed out, here are the previous posts on this collaborative series on Pilot wave Hydrodynamics with FYFD : 1) Introduction; 2) Chladni patterns; 3) Faraday instability, *

Next week, FYP! in collaboration with FYFD is bringing you an exclusive Tumblr series on Pilot wave hydrodynamics. There will be a new post on FYP! and FYFD all through next week (Jan 8 – 12) exploring pilot wave hydrodynamics.

This has been the topic of spectacular experimental investigations and revelations* (and controversies too)* in Fluid Dynamics & Quantum Mechanics in recent times.

On Monday, we begin this journey in the labs of Michael Faraday and Chladni; And then embark on an exciting adventure through decades of research to arrive at where we are today.

Stay Tuned!