Why Einstein was wrong on quantum theory

8 November 2012

Quantum mechanics is so startlingly different from the rules that govern matter at larger scales, that even Albert Einstein criticised quantum theory as improbable and 'spooky'. Turns out Einstein was wrong, as quantum systems are opening up a whole new world of quantum computing, quantum communication and quantum teleportation.

On 8 November Professor Anton Zeilinger, from the University of Vienna and the Austrian Academy of Sciences will reveal how our world will be revolutionised by quantum systems in his free public talk The Foundations of Quantum Mechanics: From Einstein's Critique to Quantum Communication and Quantum Computation.

Presented by the University of Sydney's Centre for Human Aspects of Science and Technology (CHAST), the talk is this year's Templeton Lecture - a lecture series run annually for the past 21 years.

Professor Zeilinger will unveil the quirky quantum world as he combats Einstein's criticisms of quantum theory and explores quantum experiments from the earliest investigations through to the latest research.

"In his criticism of quantum mechanics, Albert Einstein focused on the physics of individual quantum systems. For example, he criticised the inherent randomness of individual events saying 'God does not play dice' and called quantum entanglement of particle pairs 'spooky'," said Professor Zeilinger.

"Einstein specifically stressed the difficulties of defining an observation-independent reality. But in his criticism, he turned out to be incorrect."

Early quantum experiments in the 1970s were in line with quantum theory devised from much earlier gedanken experiments (or thought experiments) and these findings led to a plethora of new phenomena. The experiments opened up the new field of quantum computing and quantum communication.

The concept of quantum computing was first introduced by Richard Feynman in 1982, when he proposed a form of computation that uses quantum properties to represent data and perform operations on these data.

"I'll discuss the most recent quantum experiments, with some good examples of how those fundamental points which Einstein criticised have become cornerstones of quantum communication, quantum teleportation and quantum computation."

Professor Zeilinger is one of the world's leading experts in quantum systems, best known for his work on the foundations of quantum mechanics and their applications in quantum information technology, such as quantum computation and cryptography.

"One of the most interesting results in quantum computation is blind quantum computation, which enables absolute security in a future quantum internet," said Professor Zeilinger.

Professor Zeilinger has been a pioneer in the areas of entanglement and more recently quantum interference for macroscopic molecules. His work on the teleportation of quantum information over increasingly large distances has been widely covered in the mainstream press. In 2005, The New Statesman named Professor Zeilinger - along with Barack Obama - as one of the 10 people who could change the world.

He has been the recipient of numerous awards including the 2010 Wolf Prize in Physics, the inaugural Isaac Newton Medal from the UK's Institute of Physics in 2008, and the King Faisal Prize in 2005.

The University of Sydney's Centre for Human Aspects of Science and Technology was created to recognise the need to promote interdisciplinary integration of scientific knowledge and its impact on humans, our societies and the wider environment.

Event details

What: CHAST Templeton Lecture - The Foundations of Quantum Mechanics: From Einstein's Critique to Quantum Communication and Quantum Computation

When: 6.30pm, Thursday 8 November

Where: Eastern Avenue Auditorium, Camperdown Campus

Cost: Free

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