Monday, September 26, 2016
OF GRAVITATIONAL WAVES AND QUANTUM COOPERATION
Shortly after they rippled through our little patch of spacetime, gravitational waves began rippling through the media. The signal they generated in our common consciousness is far far stronger than the signal registered by LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational wave Observatory). Much has been written about this ground breaking achievement. The physics behind gravitational waves has been expertly expounded; we have heard about how they lay latent in the equations of general relativity for a century, and how many - including Einstein himself - doubted that this theoretical possibility would be realized by Nature; we have heard that the detector is a marvel of technology, engineered with such incredible precision that it takes quantum effects into account. (After all, if we want to know when the size of the already inconceivably small proton fluctuates by one part in one thousand, we have to contend with bizarre quantum rules like Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, and compensate for the infinitesimal 'push' exerted on a mirror by a ray of light. These quantum conundrums sound like they belong in science fiction, but due to the ingenuity and persistence of the thousand-strong team behind LIGO, we now have the skills to resolve them.) We have heard all this and more, but throughout all these stories runs an undercurrent of tension; whether it is the internal conflict of a scientist who finds it difficult to fully accept the implications of his own theory, the drama of surmounting almost impossible odds to build a highly complicated machine, or the intellectual and emotional conflicts we endured in the decades it took for Nature to answer a question we had posed.
Posted by Tasneem Zehra Husain at 12:45 AM | Permalink