Sunday, June 05, 2011

Several items

I returned late last week from Germany, where I spoke at a summer school. One fun part of the trip was a tour of the main experimental facility at the neighboring Max Planck Institute for the Chemical Physics of Solids. The facility was a large high-bay lab space, with 9 (!) dilution refrigerator apparatuses, as well as a 0.3K scanning tunneling microscope with 12 Tesla magnet. Very impressive infrastructure, and the place was neat as a pin - the very model of a lab. Note to self: figure out how to instill Germanic ultraprecise lab notebook habits in all incoming grad students...,

Other news this week that is interesting: the US National Academies have decided to make many of their books available for pdf download free of charge. I'm a particular fan of one or two of these. For example, with reference to recent discussions about helium as a resource, check this out.

There is also a great deal of attention being paid to a paper from this week's Science by the group of Aephriam Steinberg. The experiment sends single photons one at a time through a two-slit type apparatus. This is one of those experiments meant to blow the minds of undergrad physics majors taking quantum for the first time: you still build up an interference pattern from the slits, even though there's only one photon in there at a time. That means the photon must be interfering with itself(!). In the new work, the group uses optics techniques (that I freely admit I do not fully understand) to correlate, after the fact, the ("weakly" measured) momentum of the photon while in the apparatus with the (strongly measured) final position of the photon on a CCD. This does not violate the uncertainty relation, since it basically finds a quantum mechanical ensemble average of the momentum as a function of final position. Still, very neat, and discussed in some detail here and here.

I've liked Steinberg's work for years. This business about quantum measurement and post-selection is very fun to think about. For example, this comes up when considering the question, "how long does it take a quantum particle to tunnel through a classically forbidden region?". What you're basically asking is, given the successful measurement of a quantum particle at some position beyond the classically forbidden region, when did the particle, in the past, impinge upon that region in the first place? This is a very hard question to answer experimentally.