Sunday, 22 March 2015

The uncertainty principle and wave-particle duality are equivalent

In the 17th century, physicists debated over the true nature of light. When he observed that light is split into different colors by a prism of glass, Isaac Newton hypothesized that light is composed of particles he called corpuscles, which undergo refraction when they accelerate into a denser medium.

At around the same time, Christian Huygens proposed that light is made up of waves. In his treatise published in 1690, he described how light propagated by means of spherical waves, and explained how reflection and refraction occurs.

In 1704, Newton published Opticks, expounding on his corpuscular theory of light. The debate raged over whether light was a particle or a wave for almost a century, and was not settled until Thomas Young's interference experiments with double slits, which could only be explained if light was a wave.

The story did not end there. In 1901, Max Planck was able to explain the energy curve of blackbody radiation by supposing that light was emitted in small packets of energy. Planck thought of this light particles, or quanta, as a convenient mathematical device and did not believe them to be real. However, when the photoelectric effect was discovered in 1905, Albert Einstein showed that it could be explained in terms of wave packets of light we now call photons. In 1927, Louis de Broglie constructed a pilot wave theory that attempted to explain how particle and wave aspects of light can coexist.

Friday, 13 March 2015

The monogamy of entanglement

Quantum information theory has taught us that entanglement is a useful resource for communication and information processing. As with any other resource, we would like to describe the properties of entanglement quantitatively, to help us determine the various ways in which it can be manipulated. One particular question that might come to mind is this: to what extent can entanglement be shared among different objects?

The answer to this question leads us to an important fundamental property of entanglement called monogamy: if two objects are maximally entangled to each other, then neither object is entangled to a third one. More generally, it says that the stronger the entanglement between two objects is, the weaker their entanglements are with other objects.