Monday, January 16, 2012
Superstuff: When quantum goes big: Imagine you have two identical particles, and you swap their positions. The physical system looks exactly the same, and responds to an experiment exactly as before. However, quantum theory records the swap by multiplying their quantum state by a "phase factor". Switching the particles again brings in the phase factor a second time, but the particles are in their original position and so everything returns to its original state. "Since switching the particles twice brings you back to where you were, multiplying by this phase twice must do nothing at all," says John Baez at the Centre for Quantum Technologies in Singapore. This means that squaring the phase must give 1, which in turn means that the phase itself can be equal to 1 or -1.