Entanglement: The Greatest Mystery in Physics

Entanglement: The Greatest Mystery in Physics

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by Amir D. Aczel

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Since cyberspace became reality, the lines between "science" and "science fiction" have become increasingly blurred. Now, quantum mechanics promises that some of humanity's wildest dreams may be realized. Serious scientists, working from Einstein's theories, have been investigating the phenomenon known as "entanglement," one of the strangest aspects of our strange


Since cyberspace became reality, the lines between "science" and "science fiction" have become increasingly blurred. Now, quantum mechanics promises that some of humanity's wildest dreams may be realized. Serious scientists, working from Einstein's theories, have been investigating the phenomenon known as "entanglement," one of the strangest aspects of our strange universe. According to Einstein, quantum mechanics required entanglement — the idea that subatomic particles could become linked, and that a change to one such particle would instantly be reflected in its counterpart, even if separated by a universe. Einstein felt that if quantum theory could produce such bizarre effects, then it had to be invalid. But new experiments show that not only does it happen, but that it may lead to unbreakable codes, and even teleportation, perhaps in our lifetime.

Editorial Reviews

How does he do it? Once again, the author of Fermat's Last Theorem and The Mystery of the Aleph has found a thoroughly riveting subject for a book-length study. The entanglement of his title is the linkage of subatomic particles that Albert Einstein believed was a necessary condition if quantum mechanics were to be valid. He posited that such linkage would mean that a change in one such particle would be reflected instantly in its counterpart, even if the two were separated by a universe. To this great thinker, such bizarre effects indicated the invalidity of the theory. But could Einstein have been wrong? Aczel cites new experiments that indicate that entanglement does occur and describes how further research may lead to unbreakable codes and even teleportation.
Publishers Weekly
In his newest book, Aczel (Fermat's Last Theorem) discusses a great mystery in physics: the concept of entanglement in quantum physics. He begins by explaining that "entanglement" occurs when two subatomic particles are somehow connected or "entangled" with one another, so that when something happens to one particle, the same thing simultaneously happens to the other particle, even if it's miles away. However, this concept violates the theory of special relativity, since communication between two places cannot occur faster than the speed of light. Einstein knew that the mathematics of quantum theory predicted that this could happen, but he didn't believe it. In the last decade, researchers have shown in laboratory experiments that entanglement does indeed happen, and in one case it occurred over a distance of almost 10 miles. Aczel explores how a Star Trek-like teleportation may be possible via entanglement (however, a particle's quantum state, not the entire particle, is teleported to its mate), though perhaps at the expense of demonstrating entanglement's more real-world applications to cryptography. General readers may need to skim over his technical explanations, whereas more advanced readers will be interested in only the last third of the book. While the book won't satisfy dedicated science buffs, it will be an accessible entry into this concept of quantum physics. (Oct.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
"Entanglement" is one of the more remarkable aspects of quantum mechanics, a field that has produced a number of counterintuitive phenomena. Entangled particles are created in the same process and retain a connection even if they become far separated physically. If a change is later imposed on one of these particles, then there instantaneously occurs a change with its entangled partner, even if that partner is very far away in another part of the universe. Thus, the news of the change is transmitted with infinite velocity by an unknown means. Einstein aptly referred to this phenomenon as "spooky." In recent decades, researchers have shown entanglement to be a physical fact, thereby vindicating quantum mechanics, spooky though it may be. Aczel (Fermat's Last Theorem) tells most of this story at a pace that is slow enough and understandable for lay readers, but the last few chapters are more technical. Some sections read awkwardly and would have benefited from better editing, but on the whole this is recommended for college and large public libraries.-Jack W. Weigel, Ann Arbor, MI Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Continuing his string of popular books on physics and mathematics, Aczel (Bentley College, Waltham, Massachusetts) explores the phenomenon by which changes in one subatomic particle causes an immediate change in another though it be billions of miles away. Even the very tolerant world of quantum physics does not permit such shenanigans, or at least cannot yet explain them. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR

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The Greatest Mystery in Physics


Copyright © 2001 Amir D. Aczel
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1568582323

Chapter One

A Mysterious Force of Harmony

"Alas, to wear the mantle of Galileo it is not enough that you be persecuted by an unkind establishment, you must also be right."

-Robert Park

Is it possible that something that happens here will instantaneously make something happen at a far away location? If we measure something in a lab, is it possible that at the same moment, a similar event takes place ten miles away, on the other side of the world, or on the other side of the universe? Surprisingly, and against every intuition we may possess about the workings of the universe, the answer is yes. This book tells the story of entanglement, a phenomenon in which two entities are inexorably linked no matter how far away from each other they may be. It is the story of the people who have spent lifetimes seeking evidence that such a bizarre effect-predicted by the quantum theory and brought to wide scientific attention by Einstein-is indeed an integral part of nature.

As these scientists studied such effects, and produced definitive evidence that entanglement is a reality, they have also discovered other, equally perplexing, aspects of the phenomenon. Imagine Alice and Bob, two happily married people. WhileAlice is away on a business trip, Bob meets Carol, who is married to Dave. Dave is also away at that time, on the other side of the world and nowhere near any of the other three. Bob and Carol become entangled with each other; they forget their respective spouses and now strongly feel that they are meant to stay a couple forever. Mysteriously, Alice and Dave-who have never met-are now also entangled with each other. They suddenly share things that married people do, without ever having met. If you substitute for the people in this story particles labeled A, B, C, and D, then the bizarre outcome above actually occurs. If particles A and B are entangled, and so are C with D, then we can entangle the separated particles A and D by passing B and C through an apparatus that entangles them together.

Using entanglement, the state of a particle can also be teleported to a faraway destination, as happens to Captain Kirk on the television series "Star Trek" when he asks to be beamed back up to the Enterprise. To be sure, no one has yet been able to teleport a person. But the state of a quantum system has been teleported in the laboratory. Furthermore, such incredible phenomena can now be used in cryptography and computing.

In such futuristic applications of technology, the entanglement is often extended to more than two particles. It is possible to create triples of particles, for example, such that all three are 100% correlated with each other-whatever happens to one particle causes a similar instantaneous change in the other two. The three entities are thus inexorably interlinked, wherever they may be.

One day in 1968, physicist Abner Shimony was sitting in his office at Boston University. His attention was pulled, as if by a mysterious force, to a paper that had appeared two years earlier in a little-known physics journal. Its author was John Bell, an Irish physicist working in Geneva. Shimony was one of very few people who had both the ability and the desire to truly understand Bell's ideas. He knew that Bell's theorem, as explained and proved in the paper, allowed for the possibility of testing whether two particles, located far apart from each other, could act in concert. Shimony had just been asked by a fellow professor at Boston University, Charles Willis, if he would be willing to direct a new doctoral student, Michael Horne, in a thesis on statistical mechanics. Shimony agreed to see the student, but was not eager to take on a Ph.D. student in his first year of teaching at Boston University. In any case, he said, he had no good problem to suggest in statistical mechanics. But, thinking that Horne might find a problem in the foundations of quantum mechanics interesting, he handed him Bell's paper. As Shimony put it, "Horne was bright enough to see quickly that Bell's problem was interesting." Michael Horne took Bell's paper home to study, and began work on the design of an experiment that would use Bell's theorem.

Unbeknownst to the two physicists in Boston, at Columbia University in New York, John F. Clauser was reading the same paper by Bell. He, too, was mysteriously drawn to the problem suggested by Bell, and recognized the opportunity for an actual experiment. Clauser had read the paper by Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen, and thought that their suggestion was very plausible. Bell's theorem showed a discrepancy between quantum mechanics and the "local hidden variables" interpretation of quantum mechanics offered by Einstein and his colleagues as an alternative to the "incomplete" quantum theory, and Clauser was excited about the possibility of an experiment exploiting this discrepancy. Clauser was skeptical, but he couldn't resist testing Bell's predictions. He was a graduate student, and everyone he talked to told him to leave it alone, to get his Ph.D., and not to dabble in science fiction. But Clauser knew better. The key to quantum mechanics was hidden within Bell's paper, and Clauser was determined to find it.

Across the Atlantic, a few years later, Alain Aspect was feverishly working in his lab in the basement of the Center for Research on Optics of the University of Paris in Orsay. He was racing to construct an ingenious experiment: one that would prove that two photons, at two opposite sides of his lab, could instantaneously affect each other. Aspect was led to his ideas by the same abstruse paper by John Bell.

In Geneva, Nicholas Gisin met John Bell, read his papers and was also thinking about Bell's ideas. He, too, was in the race to find an answer to the same crucial question: a question that had deep implications about the very nature of reality. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. The story of Bell's ideas, which goes back to a suggestion made thirty-five years earlier by Albert Einstein, has its origins in humanity's quest for knowledge of the physical world. And in order to truly understand these deep ideas, we must return to the past.

Excerpted from ENTANGLEMENT by AMIR D. ACZEL Copyright © 2001 by Amir D. Aczel
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Entanglement: The Greatest Mystery in Physics 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
True And Impossible (Seeming). How can two particles, separated by nearly 11 kilometers, respond to one another more than 10 million times faster than the speed of light?! The answer is quantum entanglement (a term first coined by Erwin Schrodinger). It is all explained here, the cutting edge of physics exploration of the fundamentals of quantum mechanics. Very readable; a must for science nuts from jr. high age on up. My only gripe is the poor editing: some page numbers are mixed up -- maybe proof of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle on the macro scale.
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One of the most well written books on science without all the overly technical clutter or mathematics. An interesting collection of accounts that was well researched and easily understood without putting you to sleep. Hard to put down. The potential impact on future technology is huge! "Beam me up Scotty!"