Reality doesn’t exist, quantum experiment confirms


Reality doesn't exist

Reality doesn’t exist

Australian scientists have recreated a famous experiment and confirmed quantum physics’s bizarre predictions about the nature of reality, by proving that reality doesn’t actually exist until we measure it – at least, not on the very small scale.

That all sounds a little mind-meltingly complex, but the experiment poses a pretty simple question: if you have an object that can either act like a particle or a wave, at what point does that object ‘decide’?

Our general logic would assume that the object is either wave-like or particle-like by its very nature, and our measurements will have nothing to do with the answer. But quantum theory predicts that the result all depends on how the object is measured at the end of its journey. And that’s exactly what a team from the Australian National University has now found.

“It proves that measurement is everything. At the quantum level, reality does not exist if you are not looking at it,” lead researcher and physicist Andrew Truscott said in a press release.

Known as John Wheeler’s delayed-choice thought experiment, the experiment was first proposed back in 1978 using light beams bounced by mirrors, but back then, the technology needed was pretty much impossible. Now, almost 40 years later, the Australian team has managed to recreate the experiment using helium atoms scattered by laser light.

“Quantum physics predictions about interference seem odd enough when applied to light, which seems more like a wave, but to have done the experiment with atoms, which are complicated things that have mass and interact with electric fields and so on, adds to the weirdness,” said Roman Khakimov, a PhD student who worked on the experiment.

To successfully recreate the experiment, the team trapped a bunch of helium atoms in a suspended state known as a Bose-Einstein condensate, and then ejected them all until there was only a single atom left.

This chosen atom was then dropped through a pair of laser beams, which made a grating pattern that acted as a crossroads that would scatter the path of the atom, much like a solid grating would scatter light.

They then randomly added a second grating that recombined the paths, but only after the atom had already passed the first grating.

When this second grating was added, it led to constructive or destructive interference, which is what you’d expect if the atom had travelled both paths, like a wave would. But when the second grating was not added, no interference was observed, as if the atom chose only one path.

The fact that this second grating was only added after the atom passed through the first crossroads suggests that the atom hadn’t yet determined its nature before being measured a second time.

So if you believe that the atom did take a particular path or paths at the first crossroad, this means that a future measurement was affecting the atom’s path, explained Truscott. “The atoms did not travel from A to B. It was only when they were measured at the end of the journey that their wave-like or particle-like behaviour was brought into existence,” he said.

Although this all sounds incredibly weird, it’s actually just a validation for the quantum theory that already governs the world of the very small. Using this theory, we’ve managed to develop things like LEDs, lasers and computer chips, but up until now, it’s been hard to confirm that it actually works with a lovely, pure demonstration such as this one.


First photograph of light as a particle and a wave

Quantum mechanics tells us that light can behave simultaneously as a particle or a wave. However, there has never been an experiment able to capture both natures of light at the same time; the closest we have come is seeing either wave or particle, but always at different times. Taking a radically different experimental approach, EPFL scientists have now been able to take the first ever snapshot of light behaving both as a wave and as a particle. The breakthrough work is published in Nature Communications.

When UV light hits a metal surface, it causes an emission of electrons. Albert Einstein explained this “photoelectric” effect by proposing that light – thought to only be a wave – is also a stream of particles. Even though a variety of experiments have successfully observed both the particle- and wave-like behaviors of light, they have never been able to observe both at the same time.

A new approach on a classic effect

A research team led by Fabrizio Carbone at EPFL has now carried out an experiment with a clever twist: using electrons to image light. The researchers have captured, for the first time ever, a single snapshot of light behaving simultaneously as both a wave and a stream of particles particle.

The experiment is set up like this: A pulse of laser light is fired at a tiny metallic nanowire. The laser adds energy to the charged particles in the nanowire, causing them to vibrate. Light travels along this tiny wire in two possible directions, like cars on a highway. When waves traveling in opposite directions meet each other they form a new wave that looks like it is standing in place. Here, this standing wave becomes the source of light for the experiment, radiating around the nanowire.

This is where the experiment’s trick comes in: The scientists shot a stream of electrons close to the nanowire, using them to image the standing wave of light. As the electrons interacted with the confined light on the nanowire, they either sped up or slowed down. Using the ultrafast microscope to image the position where this change in speed occurred, Carbone’s team could now visualize the standing wave, which acts as a fingerprint of the wave-nature of light.

While this phenomenon shows the wave-like nature of light, it simultaneously demonstrated its particle aspect as well. As the electrons pass close to the standing wave of light, they “hit” the light’s particles, the photons. As mentioned above, this affects their speed, making them move faster or slower. This change in speed appears as an exchange of energy “packets” (quanta) between electrons and photons. The very occurrence of these energy packets shows that the light on the nanowire behaves as a particle.

“This experiment demonstrates that, for the first time ever, we can film quantum mechanics – and its paradoxical nature – directly,” says Fabrizio Carbone. In addition, the importance of this pioneering work can extend beyond fundamental science and to future technologies. As Carbone explains: “Being able to image and control quantum phenomena at the nanometer scale like this opens up a new route towards quantum computing.”



Bone marrow created on a chip

Scientists create “bone marrow on a chip”:


Scientists create "bone marrow on a chip"

Scientists create “bone marrow on a chip”

The trend of growing organs and tissues in a lab is picking up speed. The newest lab-grown breakthrough is Harvard’s “bone-marrow-on-a-chip.” The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard recently published their experiment news in the journal Nature Methods.

The researchers said the invention will enable scientists to analyze the effects of drugs and certain agents on whole bone marrow without animal testing. It also allows scientists to determine how radiation hurts bone marrow and other alternatives that could help. Initial testing showed bone marrow withers under radiation unless a drug that specifically fights off radiation poisoning is involved. The chip could also serve as a temporary “home” for a cancer patient’s bone marrow while they undergo radiation treatment. Bone marrow produces all blood cell types, and the Harvard chips allow the bone marrow to perform these essential functions while “in vitro.”

This chip is one of many that the Wyss Institute team has developed, alongside lung, heart, kidney, and gut chips. To build it, the team put dried bone powder into an open circular mold the size of a coin battery. This mold was then implanted under the skin on the back of a mouse. Eight weeks later, scientists removed the mold and examined it under a microscope to find a honeycomb structure filled in the middle of the mold, looking just like natural trabecular bone. The marrow of this looked identical to normal marrow as well. It was filled with red blood cells, mimicking the marrow of the mouse. When sorting and organizing the different bone marrow blood cells, the team found the types and numbers were the same as that in a mouse thighbone. The engineered bone marrow was then placed in a microfluidic device and received a steady supply of nutrients and waste removal to imitate circulation the tissue would normally be exposed to in the body. The marrow-on-a-chip lasted in the lab for one week, long enough to test it with radiation.

Researchers are hoping this will eventually lead to growing human bone marrow in mice, as well as using the blood cells produced on these chips to help other organs grown on chips in the lab.