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Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Wikipedia Watchword of the Week - 12/10/2006

The Wikipedia Watchword of the Week is

Double-Slit Experiment

If either slit is covered, the individual photons hitting the screen, over time, create a pattern with a single peak. But if both slits are left open, the pattern of photons hitting the screen, over time, again becomes a series of light and dark fringes. This result seems to both confirm and contradict the wave theory. On the one hand, the interference pattern confirms that light still behaves much like a wave, even though we send it one particle at a time. On the other hand, each time a photon with a certain energy is emitted, the screen detects a photon with the same energy. Under the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum theory, an individual photon is seen as passing through both slits at once, and interfering with itself, producing the interference pattern.

A remarkable result follows from a variation of the double-slit experiment, in which detectors are placed in each of the two slits, in an attempt to determine which slit the photon passes through on its way to the screen. Placing a detector even in just one of the slits will result in the disappearance of the interference pattern.

A cynic would say that the detector itself is doing something to the photons, rather than the conscious observation of the photons' paths, i.e. there's a testing flaw. But that begs the question of what the detector is doing to breakdown the probability wave of the proton. Something is making these protons choose to behave as a particle going through one slit instead of as a wave going through both. Creepy.


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