The Ph-word                

                                            Particles, cosmology and everything

Hi <<First Name>>. Thanks for reading the sixteenth issue of this newsletter! This is Eleni again, your physicist in the wild ^^

I'm definitely still in the wild, as astrophysics is ongoing as a side project, but my "personal quest" for alternative ways of working in research doesn't have any announceable results yet. (It is said that a bank is a place which lends you money if you can prove that you don't need it. Similarly, it seems that to get research funding one must already have research funding.)
At the same time I find myself writing more things that make it to other people's sites. If you read greek you can see this post about the "wow signal" and this post about the geek girls' neighborhood in Tokyo. (If you don't read greek and wondered what these are about, see wiki links.)

And, before going to the news reel, I thought I'd ask you for suggestions.
Do you happen to know of a place online where it'd be fit to promote this newsletter? Please note that we're not talking about forcing it to disaffected acquaintances :p. But I've seen that most of the Ph-word readers have come from "mass announcements" on lists and forums unrelated to physics, yet for people with general curiosity. Since the more the merrier, if you happen to have such a place in mind dropping a line would be nice.

Now let's sit back, make a cool drink, and plunge in...
June '19: The latest in ph-word

The biggest news this month came from the field that folks who are not physicists are usually most curious about: quantum mechanics.
Also, it’s the field that physicists are most curious about. Because nobody can really understand it...

Judgment day for quantum jumps

...For instance, one of the main pylons of quantum mechanics is the notion of discreteness. (Well, with "discrete" as in separate, not as in cheating.)

At a microscopic level, things can take only well-separated values and they pass from one state to another without going through intermediate transitions. An example is the energies that electrons can have when orbiting around nuclei: they can take only specific energies and they jump from one to the other instantly. This discreteness of states characterizes the quantum world and, honestly, how can anyone come easily to terms with nature being weird like this?

Only that what I just wrote isn’t entirely correct. This is not “one of the main pylons of quantum mechanics”; it’s one of the main pylons of the most popular interpretation of quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics gave people such a deep insight into the reality of nature that after one century we are still fighting about what it really means, so it is approached through different interpretations. The most popular one, the “Copenhagen interpretation”, claims that particles jump between their different states instantaneously and unpredictably.

But now, in an impressive move, an experiment showed that there is actually a gradual transition between different states – only that we hadn’t looked closely enough to see it.


The experiment at Yale University used a circuit that can have different energy levels and is small enough to behave the quantum way. (Such systems have been in use in labs for some years now and are sometimes called “artificial atoms” since they mimic the energy of atoms.) What was new in this experiment is that it reached a near-perfect observation of everything that was going on in it, and that they managed to take measurements of the energy at very short time intervals (millionths of seconds).

This enabled the good people to see that the system didn’t pass “instantaneously” from one energy state to the other, but that it transitioned gradually. They were even able to prove this more firmly by reversing the transition after it started – which would be unthinkable under quantum orthodoxy.


However, don’t think that all weirdness is now gone. When saying that the system transitioned smoothly from one energy to the other, they don’t mean that it passed through the intermediate energies. They mean that it started by being in a state with energy “a”, then it became a mix of state “a” and state “b”, and eventually it moved to a clean state “b”.

Now this might sound a poco psychedelic but for orthodox quantum mechanics it’s business as usual. “Superposition” of states is another of the baffling main quantum pylons (and it is well-known from the joke about Schrodinger’s cat which is in two states at the same time; by the way, this is a joke; nothing as large as the tiniest cat can be in superposition).

But what is radical in last month’s experiment is that eventually “instantaneous jumps” might not be a part of the quantum world at all.

The kickin' link
The 20th of this July marks the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on moon! Celebrate in style.
(Tip: Among the many available files, the 'Apollo 11 Press Kit' is something for retro space lovers.)

This time Serendipity is also inspired by last month’s news and more specifically from a story that appeared in several major media: “We’ve seen signs of a mirror-image universe that is touching our own”.

Someone (er, e.g. me) who writes about new findings in science for fun and because also others find the topic interesting, should probably also care about findings that are not findings at all. I.e. debunking fake news or, as it was called in my days, bullshit.

Everything this article implies never happened. We have not “seen signs”, no experiments “are revealing”, and there are no “tantalising hints” about some parallel world that is a reflection of ours. Somebody simply thought of one more theory - and in this case one that sounds pretty improbable to come true - and is preparing an experiment to look for signs from it.

Unfortunately the more outrageous and unproven a cosmological theory is, the more it is advertised as solid knowledge during the last years, and this is by mainstream media and actual academics… Can anyone come up with a quick way to tell made-up stuff apart from real scientific progress that reaches the media? Personally, I don’t know; but I think that the hype stories have one trait in common: they are all about “other universes” that we cannot really detect...
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