Plumbing the spooky depths of atoms

Lecture will help to understand the quantum world

Nobel prize winner Serge Haroche, will be in Dublin on Monday to deliver a talk on quantum mechanics.

Nobel prize winner Serge Haroche, will be in Dublin on Monday to deliver a talk on quantum mechanics.

Sat, Nov 9, 2013, 01:01

It doesn’t get stranger than an area of science known as quantum physics. At nearly every turn it manages to prove things we would ordinarily describe as nonsense. It even had Albert Einstein stumped, the great scientist describing one aspect of the subject as no more than “spooky action at a distance”.

Classical mechanics is what we usually study in physics class – the laws that dictate how the planets turn, how gravity acts on bodies and other things we see in the real world. But when you bore down into the heart of atoms, you come to another world: the heart of quantum physics.

One scientist to explore this world, Nobel prize winner Serge Haroche, will be in Dublin on Monday to deliver a talk on quantum mechanics.

He will also explain why quantum mechanics has become so important: its remarkable characteristics can be used to deliver clocks that can keep accurate time over billions of years, GPS location systems that can see down to the millimetre, and computers that can easily outpace today’s fastest.

Discoveries in the field could lead to an early warning system for earthquakes or help to search for mineral deposits in the earth.

“When you move from the living world to the micro world of quantum mechanics there is a strange cross-over boundary. We can do experiments to see how the living world disappears and changes to the quantum world,” says Prof Haroche.

“People often talk about the strangeness of the quantum world, but the paradox is while it is difficult to do and understand it is potentially very powerful.”

We already have experience of the quantum world at a superficial level. “People are already using aspects of it in GPS, in microelectronics, but we don’t fully know the strange rules that apply when we are at the atomic level,” Prof Haroche said yesterday in advance of his talk.

Currently the president of the École normale supérieure and working in its Kastler Brossel laboratory, Prof Haroche won the Nobel for physics in 2012. His main research looks at quantum optics and quantum information science.

One of the characteristics of quantum mechanics is that a single particle can be in two places at one time, something called “superposition”, says Prof Haroche.

“Schrödinger’s Cat”, which can paradoxically be at once alive and deceased, was a famous attempt to explain this concept.


Shedding New Light on Schrödinger’s Cat, the Helix at DCU, November 11th at 11am. Free entry but booking essential on 01-7005100, at president.reply@dcu.ie, or on iti.ms/HGjW6e

Watch the lecture live on irishtimes.com