Saturday, December 25, 2010

Einstein was right, you can be in two places at once

A device that exists in two different states at the same time, and coincidentally proves that Albert Einstein was right when he thought he was wrong, has been named as the scientific breakthrough of the year.

The machine, consisting of a sliver of wafer-thin metal, is the first man-made device to be governed by the mysterious quantum forces that operate at the level of atoms and sub-atomic particles.

Normal, everyday objects obey the laws of conventional Newtonian physics, named after Sir Isaac Newton, but these rules break down on the sub-atomic scale and a whole new branch of theoretical physics had to be invented to explain what happens on this sub-microscopic level.

Einstein was the first to embrace quantum physics but later rejected it on the grounds that it made everything unpredictable – "God does not play dice with the universe," he famously stated.

However, a range of effects has been recorded over the past few years that can only be explained by quantum mechanics and in March scientists were able to build the first device that seemed to follow the quantum rules that Einstein was the first to realise applied to light waves.

The breakthrough, recognised by the journal Science as the most significant this year, opens the way to a range of practical developments such as quantum computers that are far faster than conventional processors and which could never be hacked into because they handle and transmit data using an unbreakable form of encryption.

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