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New Scientist The Collection

New Scientist The Collection The Quantum World

New Scientist covers discoveries and ideas in science and technology that will change your life and the way you understand the world. New Scientist employs and commissions the best writers in their fields to provide in-depth but accessible coverage of the developments that matter. New Scientist: The Collection is a themed compilation of recent articles and special reports from our back catalogue, providing a book-length examination of some of the deepest questions known to humanity.

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United Kingdom
New Scientist Ltd
Back issues only

in this issue

3 min.
welcome to the weird

IT IS something of a tragedy that Lewis Carroll died just as quantum theory was being born. The author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland had a wonderful eye for the absurd, and learning about quantum oddities would have given him enormous pleasure. It was Carroll, after all, who gave us strange shrunken worlds that require one to believe six impossible things before breakfast. He came up with a cat that disappeared, leaving its grin hanging in the air. His world is one where the unfolding of events is always “curiouser and curiouser”, a phrase that fits the quantum world of atoms, electrons and photons of light perfectly. Shrink down to these scales, and you will find objects that exist in two places at once, share seemingly telepathic links and even change their…

16 min.
weirdest of the weird

Both and neither Wave-particle duality IT DOES not require any knowledge of quantum physics to recognise quantum weirdness. The oldest and grandest of the quantum mysteries relates to a question that has exercised great minds at least since the time of the ancient Greek philosopher Euclid: what is light made of? History has flip-flopped on the issue. Isaac Newton thought light was tiny particles – “corpuscles” in the argot of the day. Not all his contemporaries were impressed, and in classic experiments in the early 1800s the polymath Thomas Young showed how a beam of light diffracted, or spread out, as it passed through two narrow slits placed close together, producing an interference pattern on a screen behind just as if it were a wave. So which is it, particle or wave? Keen to…

11 min.
quantum shadows

IF YOU haven’t found something strange during the day,” John Archibald Wheeler is said to have remarked, “It hasn’t been much of a day.” But then, strangeness was Wheeler’s stock in trade. As one of the 20th century’s leading theoretical physicists, the things he dealt with every day – the space- and time-bending warpings of Einstein’s relativity, the fuzzy uncertainties and improbabilities of quantum physics – were the sort to boggle the minds of most mere mortals. Even so, one day in 1978 must have been quite something for Wheeler. That was when he first lit on a very strange idea to test how photons might be expected to behave. Half a century earlier, quantum physics had produced the startling insight that light – everything in the quantum world, in fact…

1 min.
duelling over duality

PARTICLE Democritus (~460-370 BC) Light is atoms sloughed off the surface of the sun Alhazen (965-1040) The Arabic scientist postulates that light is emitted by all luminous objects Isaac Newton (1642-1727) Develops a “corpuscular theory” that lives on his prestige for a century Max Planck (1858-1947) Explains radiation spectra by dividing light into discrete packets of energy called quanta Albert Einstein (1879-1955) Uses Planck’s light quanta to explain the photoelectric effect WAVE Aristotle (384-322 BC) Light is a disturbance in a fluid ether René Descartes (1596-1650) Light is an impulse across the material particles of nature Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695) Established the first modern wave theory of light to explain reflection, refraction and interference Thomas Young (1773-1829) His double-slit experiment demonstrates light interference and refutes Newton’s theory James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) His theory of electromagnetism has light as propagating fields 1924 – Quantum…

11 min.
matter of interpretation

”Many worlds says there are multiple copies of you – and that Elvis is still performing in Vegas in another universe” A CENTURY, it seems, is not enough. One hundred years ago this year, the first world physics conference took place in Brussels, Belgium. The topic under discussion was how to deal with the strange new quantum theory and whether it would ever be possible to marry it to our everyday experience, leaving us with one coherent description of the world. It is a question physicists are still wrestling with today. Quantum particles such as atoms and molecules have an uncanny ability to appear in two places at once, spin clockwise and anticlockwise at the same time, or instantaneously influence each other when they are half a universe apart. The thing is,…

14 min.
i’m rowan hooper i’m rich. i'm a movie star. i'm king of the world. i’m also poor. i’m homeless. lots of me are dead.

’M NONE of these. Not in this universe. But in the multiverse I’m all of them, and more. I’m not a megalomaniac or a fantasist, but I do have a fascination with what-ifs. In the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, every decision I take in this world creates new universes: one for each and every choice I could possibly make. There’s a boundless collection of parallel worlds, full of innumerable near-copies of me (and you). The multiverse: an endless succession of what-ifs. In one of those worlds, I’ve just written a paragraph which explains that more clearly. This worries me. If many worlds is correct – and many physicists think it is – my actions shape the course not just of my life, but of the lives of my duplicates in other worlds. “In…