By: April Carson
Scientists have revolutionized the way we view light, making it possible for photons to travel in two directions--one forward and one backward. This revolutionary technique has boundless potential applications including bettering quantum computing capabilities and further exploring gravity theories on a quantum level.
Through manipulating a single photon, or particle of light, with an optical crystal two distinct teams of physicists were able to carry out what has been called 'quantum time inversion', resulting in the photon being existent both backwards and forwards in time. In other words, a photon was created that travelled both forwards and backwards in the same timeline.
The result stems from the coming together of two odd laws of quantum mechanics, which control tiny particles. The first law, called quantum superposition, permits minuscule objects to exist in numerous forms simultaneously until someone or something observes it. This unusual phenomenon has perplexed scientists for centuries and is still not entirely understood. The second law of physics, known as charge-parity-time (CPT) symmetry, asserts that any system composed of particles will uphold the same physical laws regardless if the charges and coordinates are reversed or propelled backward through time.
This combination of laws enables physicists to manipulate light in a way that makes it travel both forward and backward through time simultaneously. By altering the polarization of photons, one can observe a delayed reaction within the particles at the same time as they move in reverse.
By uniting these two concepts, the physicists initiated a photon that seemed to go along with and against the arrow of time. Their twin experiments were made public on arXiv's preprint server between October 31st and November 2nd, yet they still require peer-review before being accepted as viable findings.
Teodor Strömberg, a physicist from the University of Vienna and first author on one of the papers discussing time's directionality, stated to Live Science: "The notion of an arrow in time allows us to assign meaning to our acknowledgement that reality goes forward in one single direction. This runs contrary however with many fundamental laws which are not biased towards any specific temporal flow."
The team of physicists have developed a mathematical model based on experiments that manipulate the photons in an effort to break the arrow of time.
The second law of thermodynamics states that disorder, or entropy, must increase over time. This phenomenon is known as the "arrow of time" and is one of the few physical concepts which dictate a particular movement in terms of chronology.
However, the recent work of physicists at the University of Vienna has opened up a new possibility - that of manipulating light to travel both forward and backward in time. Through their use of superconducting qubits, they have demonstrated how light can be made to flow in two opposite temporal directions simultaneously.
Thanks to the universe's proclivity for chaotic expansion, it is typically much easier to combine elements than separate them. This increased disorder also binds entropy and our understanding of time into a cohesive unit. Kurt Vonnegut's iconic scene in "Slaughterhouse-Five" showcases the alteration of time when viewed from a different perspective, with entropy reversing World War II. Bullets are pulled away from those who were injured and flames vanish back into bombs that become meticulously organized; all destruction is undone by the reversed arrow of time as disorder gradually dissipates.
Though entropy is predominately a statistical phenomenon, it does not apply to individual subatomic particles. In reality, scientists have seen CPT symmetry upheld in every particle interaction they've observed so far - even the up-to 1 billion interactions per second that take place within the Large Hadron Collider. This means particles moving forward in time are indistinguishable from antiparticles traveling backward through time on their mirrored system.
This has inspired physicists to consider manipulating light in order to travel backward and forward through time simultaneously.
One of the most notable displays of quantum superposition is Schrödinger's cat. This experiment involves a cat being placed in a sealed box where radioactive decay triggered by an alpha particle could release poison and cause its death. By studying this thought process, researchers are able to gain insight into how new experiments may unfold. Radioactive decay is a random quantum mechanical process, making it impracticable to foretell the state of the cat before peering into the box. Theoretically speaking, until then, the feline exists in an amalgamated state of both alive and dead.
Recently, physicists demonstrated a new experiment that has been likened to Schrödinger's cat - the manipulation of light to travel both forward and backward through time simultaneously.
By being able to occupy two distinct timelines simultaneously, a particle can be put in both forward and backward time states - though witnessing this phenomenon experimentally is quite difficult. To prove it, both teams designed similar tests which split a photon into two pathways by means of an optical crystal. The photon traversed the crystal along one route as usual; however, a second path was established to transform its polarization - or direction in space- so that it seemed like it moved back through time.
By sending the superposed photons through a crystal and measuring their polarization, the team uncovered an unforeseen quantum interference pattern - one composed of light and dark stripes that can only occur when a photon has been split and travels in both temporal directions. After repeating this experiment several times, they were able to confirm these results.
Strömberg remarked that the superimposition of processes they achieved was comparable to an object simultaneously rotating clockwise and anticlockwise. Intrigued by the possibilities, the researchers constructed a time-flipped photon to explore its potential. Subsequent trials then revealed that these flips could be combined with logic gates for reversible computation in both directions, paving the way for quantum processors with remarkable processing capabilities.
This research has opened the door for future theories of quantum gravity, which aims to bring together general relativity and quantum mechanics. The study's particles with mixed time orientations could be a crucial element in helping scientists investigate some of the most perplexing secrets from around our universe.
As Giulio Chiribella, a physicist at the University of Oxford and lead author of another paper on this topic remarked to Live Science: "It's safe to say that our experiment provides an imitation of extraordinary circumstances where photons could progress in both directions through time. What we actually do is akin to some experiments designed for replicating exceptional physics like black hole mechanics or time travel."
The study's results have implications for quantum communication technology, as well as providing scientists with further insight into phenomena such as causality. This could be a major breakthrough in terms of understanding the nature of time and how it functions.
Though the experiment is an incredible feat of science, researchers caution that this does not mean that humans can actually time travel. What it does signify is the potential for some extraordinary physics to be explored, as well as potential applications in quantum technology. Scientists believe these findings could help us better understand the fundamental nature of time and how it works.
The study was published in the journal Nature Physics.
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About the Blogger:
April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
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