Professor of physics Jim Al-Khalili investigates the most accurate and yet perplexing scientific theory ever – quantum physics.
01 Einstein’s Nightmare
Professor Jim Al-Khalili investigates the most accurate and yet perplexing scientific theory ever – quantum physics. At the beginning of the 20th century scientists were led into the hidden workings of matter, into the sub-atomic building blocks of the world around us. They discovered phenomena unlike any encountered before – a realm where things can be in many places at once, where chance and probability call the shots and where reality appears to only truly exist when we observe it.
Albert Einstein hated the idea that nature, at its most fundamental level, is governed by chance. Jim reveals how, in the 1930s, Einstein thought he’d found a fatal flaw in quantum physics because it implies that sub-atomic particles can communicate faster than light in defiance of the theory of relativity. In the 1960s the scientist John Bell showed there was a way to test if Einstein was right and quantum mechanics was actually mistaken. Jim repeats this critical experiment – with shocking results.
02 Let There Be Life
Turning his attention to the world of nature, can quantum mechanics explain the greatest mysteries in biology? The European robin navigates using one of the most bizarre effects in physics – quantum entanglement, a process which seems to defy common sense. Jim finds that even the most personal of human experiences – our sense of smell – is touched by ethereal quantum vibrations.
According to new experiments it seems that our quantum noses are listening to smells. Jim discovers that the most famous law of quantum physics – the uncertainty principle – is obeyed by plants and trees as they capture sunlight during the vital process of photosynthesis. Jim wonders if the strange laws of the sub-atomic world, which allow objects to tunnel through impassable barriers in defiance of common sense, could effect the mechanism by which living species evolve?