Archivi tag: quantum physics

Towards understanding the Big Bang

Le leggi della fisica non sono in grado di descrivere cosa accadde durante il Big Bang. Infatti, sia la teoria dei quanti che la relatività generale non permettono di spiegare lo stato fisico singolare, infinitamente denso e caldo che caratterizzava le fasi iniziali della storia dell’Universo. Forse un giorno, la formulazione di una teoria che permetta di descrivere la gravità su scale quantistiche potrebbe fornirci una risposta (vedasi Idee sull’Universo). Oggi, alcuni scienziati del  Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute, AEI) a Golm/Potsdam e del Perimeter Institute in Canada hanno fatto una scoperta importante in questo contesto. La loro idea è quella di assumere che lo spazio consista di piccolissime unità chiamate “mattoni fondamentali”. Partendo da questo concetto, gli scienziati arrivano alla formulazione delle equazioni più importanti della cosmologia, e cioè le equazioni di Friedmann, che permettono di descrivere l’Universo. Il risultato è che questo processo mostra, in definitiva, che la meccanica quantistica e la relatività possono essere effettivamente unificate.

For almost a century, the two major theories of physics have coexisted but have been irreconcilable: while Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity describes gravity and thus the world at large, quantum physics describes the world of atoms and elementary particles. Both theories work extremely well within their own boundaries; however, they break down, as currently formulated, in certain extreme regions, at extremely tiny distances, the so-called Planck scale, for example. Space and time thus have no meaning in black holes or, most notably, during the Big Bang. Daniele Oriti from the Albert Einstein Institute uses a fluid to illustrate this situation: “We can describe the behaviour of flowing water with the long-known classical theory of hydrodynamics. But if we advance to smaller and smaller scales and eventually come across individual atoms, it no longer applies. Then we need quantum physics“. Just as a liquid consists of atoms, Oriti imagines space to be made up of tiny cells or “atoms of space”, and a new theory is required to describe them: quantum gravity.

In Einstein’s relativity theory, space is a continuum. Oriti now breaks down this space into tiny elementary cells and applies the principles of quantum physics to them, thus to space itself and to the theory of relativity describing it. This is the unification idea.

A fundamental problem of all approaches to quantum gravity consists in bridging the huge dimensional scales from the space atoms to the dimensions of the Universe. This is where Oriti, his colleague Lorenzo Sindoni and Steffen Gielen, a former postdoc at the AEI who is now a researcher at the Perimeter Institute in Canada, have succeeded. Their approach is based on so-called group field theory. This is closely related to loop quantum gravity, which the AEI has been developing for some time. The task now consisted in describing how the space of the Universe evolves from the elementary cells. Staying with the idea of fluids: How can the hydrodynamics for the flowing water be derived from a theory for the atoms? This extremely demanding mathematical task recently led to a surprising success. “Under special assumptions, space is created from these building blocks, and evolves like an expanding Universe“, explains Oriti. “For the first time, we were thus able to derive the Friedmann equation directly as part of our complete theory of the structure of space“, he adds. This fundamental equation, which describes the expanding Universe, was derived by the Russian mathematician Alexander Friedmann in the 1920s on the basis of the General Theory of Relativity. The scientists have therefore succeeded in bridging the gap from the microworld to the macroworld, and thus from quantum mechanics to the General Theory of Relativity: they show that space emerges as the condensate of these elementary cells and evolves into a Universe which resembles our own. Oriti and his colleagues thus see themselves at the start of a difficult but promising journey. Their current solution is valid only for a homogeneous Universe, but our real world is much more complex. It contains inhomogeneities, such as planets, stars and galaxies. The physicists are currently working on including them in their theory. And they have planned something really big as their ultimate goal.

On the one hand, they want to investigate whether it is possible to describe space even during the Big Bang.

A few years ago, former AEI researcher Martin Bojowald found clues, as part of a simplified version of loop quantum gravity, that time and space can possibly be traced back through the Big Bang. With their theory, Oriti and his colleagues are hoping to confirm or improve this result. If it continues to prove successful, the researchers could perhaps use it to explain also the assumed inflationary expansion of the Universe shortly after the Big Bang as well, and the nature of the mysterious dark energy. This energy field causes the Universe to expand at an ever-increasing rate. Oriti’s colleague Lorenzo Sindoni therefore adds: “We will only be able to really understand the evolution of the Universe when we have a theory of quantum gravity“. The AEI researchers are in good company here: Einstein and his successors, who have been searching for this for almost one hundred years.

Max Planck Institute: Quantum steps towards the Big Bang

arXiv: Cosmology from Group Field Theory Formalism for Quantum Gravity

Why nature is quantum?

Sappiamo che gli scienziati sono come dei bambini perchè si pongono sempre la domanda sul ‘perché’ delle cose. Tra queste, una domanda a cui si deve ancora rispondere riguarda come mai la natura si comporta secondo le leggi della fisica quantistica. Oggi, due ricercatori, Corsin Pfister e Stephanie Wehner del Centre for Quantum Technologies presso la National University di Singapore stanno cercando di affrontare la questione in un articolo pubblicato su Nature Communications.

We know that things that follow quantum rules, such as atoms, electrons or the photons that make up light, are full of surprises. They can exist in more than one place at once, for instance, or exist in a shared state where the properties of two particles show what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance“, no matter what their physical separation. Because such things have been confirmed in experiments, researchers are confident the theory is right. But it would still be easier to swallow if it could be shown that quantum physics itself sprang from intuitive underlying principles. One way to approach this problem is to imagine all the theories one could possibly come up with to describe nature, and then work out what principles help to single out quantum physics. A good start is to assume that information follows Einstein’s special relativity and cannot travel faster than light. However, this alone isn’t enough to define quantum physics as the only way nature might behave. Corsin and Stephanie think they have come across a new useful principle. “We have found a principle that is very good at ruling out other theories“, says Corsin. In short, the principle to be assumed is that if a measurement yields no information, then the system being measured has not been disturbed. Quantum physicists accept that gaining information from quantum systems causes disturbance. Corsin and Stephanie suggest that in a sensible world the reverse should be true, too. If you learn nothing from measuring a system, then you can’t have disturbed it. Consider the famous Schrodinger’s cat paradox, a thought experiment in which a cat in a box simultaneously exists in two states (this is known as a ‘quantum superposition’). According to quantum theory it is possible that the cat is both dead and alive until the cat’s state of health is ‘measured’ by opening the box. When the box is opened, allowing the health of the cat to be measured, the superposition collapses and the cat ends up definitively dead or alive. The measurement has disturbed the cat. This is a property of quantum systems in general. Perform a measurement for which you can’t know the outcome in advance, and the system changes to match the outcome you get. What happens if you look a second time? The researchers assume the system is not evolving in time or affected by any outside influence, which means the quantum state stays collapsed. You would then expect the second measurement to yield the same result as the first. After all, “If you look into the box and find a dead cat, you don’t expect to look again later and find the cat has been resurrected“, says Stephanie. “You could say we’ve formalised the principle of accepting the facts“. Corsin and Stephanie show that this principle rules out various theories of nature. They note particularly that a class of theories they call ‘discrete’ are incompatible with the principle. These theories hold that quantum particles can take up only a finite number of states, rather than choose from an infinite, continuous range of possibilities. The possibility of such a discrete ‘state space’ has been linked to quantum gravitational theories proposing similar discreteness in spacetime, where the fabric of the Universe is made up of tiny brick-like elements rather than being a smooth, continuous sheet. As is often the case in research, Corsin and Stephanie reached this point having set out to solve an entirely different problem altogether. Corsin was trying to find a general way to describe the effects of measurements on states, a problem that he found impossible to solve. In an attempt to make progress, he wrote down features that a ‘sensible’ answer should have. This property of information gain versus disturbance was on the list. He then noticed that if he imposed the property as a principle, some theories would fail. Corsin and Stephanie are keen to point out it’s still not the whole answer to the big ‘why’ question: theories other than quantum physics, including classical physics, are compatible with the principle. But as researchers compile lists of principles that each rule out some theories to reach a set that singles out quantum physics, the principle of information gain versus disturbance seems like a good one to include.

See also: Is nature – deep down – actually discrete?

CQT: New principle may help explain why nature is quantum
arXiv: If no information gain implies no disturbance, then any discrete physical theory is classical