Professor of physics Jim Al-Khalili investigates the most accurate and yet perplexing scientific theory ever – quantum physics.
Professor Jim Al-Khalili traces the story of arguably the most important, accurate and yet perplexing scientific theory ever – quantum physics.
The story starts at the beginning of the 20th century with scientists trying to better understand how light bulbs work. This simple question led them deep into the hidden workings of matter, into the sub-atomic building blocks of the world around us. Here they discovered phenomena unlike any encountered before – a realm where things can be in many places at once, where chance and probability call the shots and where reality appears to only truly exist when we observe it.
Albert Einstein hated the idea that nature, at its most fundamental level, is governed by chance. Jim reveals how, in the 1930s, Einstein thought he had found a fatal flaw in quantum physics, because it implies that sub-atomic particles can communicate faster than light in defiance of the theory of relativity.
For 30 years, his ideas were ignored. Then, in the 1960s, a brilliant scientist from Northern Ireland called John Bell showed there was a way to test if Einstein was right and quantum mechanics was actually mistaken. In a laboratory in Oxford, Jim repeats this critical experiment. Does reality really exist or do we conjure it into existence by the act of observation?
The results are shocking!
Physicist Jim Al-Khalili routinely deals with the strangest subject in all of science – quantum physics, the astonishing and perplexing theory of sub-atomic particles. But now he’s turning his attention to the world of nature. Can quantum mechanics explain the greatest mysteries in biology?
His first encounter is with the robin. This familiar little bird turns out to navigate using one of the most bizarre effects in physics – quantum entanglement, a process which seems to defy common sense. Even Albert Einstein himself could not believe it.
Jim finds that even the most personal of human experiences – our sense of smell – is touched by ethereal quantum vibrations. According to the latest experiments, it seems that our quantum noses are listening to smells. Jim then discovers that the most famous law of quantum physics – the uncertainty principle – is obeyed by plants and trees as they capture sunlight during the vital process of photosynthesis.
Finally, Jim asks if quantum physics might play a role in evolution. Could the strange laws of the sub-atomic world, which allow objects to tunnel through impassable barriers in defiance of common sense, effect the mechanism by which living species evolve?