Thursday, August 16, 2007

Hey, Greg, what say you?

Dr. Von Winckel, what do you make of this?

"A pair of German physicists claim to have broken the speed of light - an achievement that would undermine our entire understanding of space and time.

"According to Einstein's special theory of relativity, it would require an infinite amount of energy to propel an object at more than 186,000 miles per second.

"However, Dr Gunter Nimtz and Dr Alfons Stahlhofen, of the University of Koblenz, say they may have breached a key tenet of that theory.

"The pair say they have conducted an experiment in which microwave photons - energetic packets of light - travelled "instantaneously" between a pair of prisms that had been moved up to 3ft apart.

"The scientists were investigating a phenomenon called quantum tunnelling, which allows sub-atomic particles to break apparently unbreakable laws.

Dr Nimtz told New Scientist magazine: "For the time being, this is the only violation of special relativity that I know of."

(I know, I know- it's not exactly your field. But, remember, the best that I can say about this, in my infinite wisdom, is probably something like ''Huh, huh. Prisms are cool.")


gregvw said...

I do know something about tunneling. The basic idea is that because all matter has a wave nature on very small scales, when they impinge on a finite width potential barrier of some kind, there is the possibility of the matter going directly through the barrier and reappearing on the other side.

If matter travels through such a barrier, a natural question to ask is, "How long does it take to tunnel through the barrier?" It turns out that the time can be small enough that if you assigned a velocity to the process, say, V=L/T, where L is the thickness of the barrier and T is the tunneling time, that V can be greater than the speed of light.

Of course, relativity theory does not quite agree with quantum mechanics and efforts to find a common ground is one of the main efforts of theoretical physics. I personally only survived a bit of relativistic quantum theory because it seemed like a lot of work to do for so little that I can work with.

Just because you "teleported" a particle, sadly does not directly offer much hope for larger objects since it was required for the thing to be small before the wave nature made its presence clear. One you put a lot of particles together, the weirdness seems to get averaged out of the equation.

gregvw said...

All that stuff I said about matter applies for light as well, incidentally.

Rufus said...

Thank you very much. Amazingly enough, I understood all of that!