Archive for September 2011
Let’s hope not.
Recently a study conducted at the CERN research lab (pictured) in Geneva conducted an experiment where they sent tiny, almost mass-less particles called neutrinos to a lab in Italy. The particles clocked in at just over the speed of light. And although CERN has said that they’re still ensuring that there aren’t any errors, physicists are getting nervous.
Is it That Big of a Deal?
My friend and I were running the other day, and he had asked me whether or not I had heard about this experiment. I had, and told him I really hoped that they messed up somewhere. He asked why as he couldn’t figure out why this was such a big deal. I said, “it’s like working your way up to calculus, only to find that 2+2 actually equals 5.” “Oh, that would suck,” was all he could manage.
Einstein’s ground-breaking theory of relativity, which has set the stage for modern physics states that there is a universal speed limit — the speed of light. This universal speed limit is applied to everything in terms of speed through time + speed through actual space. Everything actually travels at the speed of light, just in a different way. For example, lets say for the sake of simplicity that the speed of light was actually 100 mph. If you were driving in a car at 25 mph, you’d be moving through space at 25 mph. Your remaining 75 mph would be put toward traveling in time. Conversely, if you were driving at 75 mph, you’d be moving through space at that 75 mph, so there’d only by 25 mph left for you to travel through time. As a result, time would be slower for you than the person driving at 25 mph. (This is why atomic clocks on jets actually tick slower than those on earth, they’re going through space faster.) Also, as you come closer to the speed of light, you lose mass. So, if a person drove our theoretical car at 125 mph, not only would they have a negative mass, they’d also have to travel backward in time. Both of these ideas, modern physics says are completely impossible. So yes, it is that big of a deal.
So Now What?
For the next several weeks, and probably months, you can expect the scientists to pour over the findings and ensure they’re correct. After that, you can expect the labs to test this, retest this, and then test this again. If the findings keep coming up the same, then the world of physics is in for a major overhaul.
I figure that it’s in your best interest as a reader of this blog that you can understand my background in quantum physics. This way, we’re all on the same page… as much as you can be on the same page when talking about quantum physics. We’ll start with the observer effect.
Most often, the observer effect is used in reference to Schrödinger’s cat. While the video notes that Schrödinger used the experiment to make fun of quantum mechanics, the thought experiment became one of the most famous thought experiments in history, and helped explain some quantum phenomena.
The first thing that piqued my interest in quantum physics was the double slit experiment (the video is a bit childish, but it gets the job done). The idea of a particle being in two places at once completely blew my mind (and often still does). However, this two places at one time nonsense boils down to the observer effect. This idea states that when something is not observed, particularly quantum materials, it exists in all possible states. So, in reference to the double slit experiment, the electron was equally likely to go through the left and right slit, therefore it had to go through both. (It’s okay, I don’t totally have that part down either.) However, when it was observed, only one outcome was possible. The electron had to go through either the left, or the right, which resulted in the double slit pattern.
That seems like enough to give anyone a headache, so I’ll cut this entry here.
My name is Rich Mahon and one of my biggest passions is space. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be discussing, reposting, and commenting on stories that have to do with our universe, and the minute, bizarre world of quantum mechanics. From the time I was young I wanted to be an astrophysicist, however I found the nuts and bolts of physics to be rather boring. As a result, I dropped space as a career and picked it up as a hobby.
There is little about the universe that doesn’t fascinate me, however of particular interest to me are black holes, theories dealing with the time before the big bang, parallel universes, and the strangeness of quantum theory. In addition, the big questions that the science brings up (and tries to answer), such as where did we come from, how did all this “stuff” get here in the first place, what else is out there, and how are particles connected throughout time and space. Also, the tremendous vastness of the universe, the monumental amount of destruction, and the size of some of the things out there never cease to send me into a state of awe.
Check out this video to see what I mean.