Visiting Scientist Sends Physics World SpinningJuly 22, 2004
Department Chair Collaborating on Major Effort
Einstein was right (though for the wrong reason!)
At least that's what the work of Shahriar S. Afshar, a visiting research professor at Rowan University, seems to be proving about an 80-year-old debate that had Einstein on the losing side.
And in the world of physics and academia, that's big news.
Einstein claimed that quantum physics was incomplete. Afshar, who is working this summer with Drs. Eduardo Flores and Ernst Knoesel, professors in Rowan?s Physics Department, has proposed an experiment that can test whether or not Einstein?s claim was right. The results of his preliminary work, conducted in 2001, are appearing in the July 24 issue of New Scientist magazine.
Afshar conducted his initial theoretical and experimental work at Boston's Institute for Radiation-Induced Mass Studies (IRIMS), where he serves the privately funded organization as a principal investigator. He later continued his work at the Harvard University Physics Department as a research scholar, where he was able to verify his initial findings.
In his experiment, Afshar uses a laser beam and a screen with two small pinholes relatively far from each other. A particle goes through a pinhole and eventually hits a screen for detection. Afshar can tell what pinhole the particle goes through, and at the same time he can show that the particle?s path is affected by both pinholes. According to the standard theory of quantum physics, this is not possible. If the result of the experiment holds, it means that the standard theory of quantum mechanics is still incomplete, which was Einstein?s long-held view.
This summer, Afshar, Flores and Knoesel are conducting follow-up experiments in Rowan's state-of-the-art Science Hall to determine whether they can validate Afshar?s initial findings for single photons. In the experiment at Rowan, the team is using a single photon source instead of a beam. Some critics have pointed out that the results of the experiment with a laser beam could be explained in terms of classical physics. Thus, the use of single particles is critical and would be able to finally determine the validity of Afshar?s claims.
If the next round of experiments does support Afshar?s findings, this can mean a whole new way of looking at quantum theory among physicists, who have long-accepted the opinion of Einstein's rival on the subject, Danish scientist Niels Bohr. And that can have meaning for the lay community as well.
Flores noted, ?It is likely that the interpretation problems of quantum mechanics are a hint that there is something new to learn about our physical world. There might be either a new force or a new physical property to be discovered. The problems of quantum mechanics will not be resolved unless they are exposed and studied. Thus, doing this experiment at Rowan is an exciting prospect.?
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