Einstein was wrong about at least one thing: There are, in fact, "spooky actions at a distance," as now proven by researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
Einstein used that term to refer to quantum mechanics, which describes the curious behavior of the smallest particles of matter and light. He was referring, specifically, to entanglement, the idea that two physically separated particles can have correlated properties, with values that are uncertain until they are measured. Einstein was dubious, and until now, researchers have been unable to support it with near-total confidence.
As described in a paper posted online and submitted to Physical Review Letters (PRL), researchers from NIST and several other institutions created pairs of identical light particles, or photons, and sent them to two different locations to be measured. Researchers showed the measured results not only were correlated, but also—by eliminating all other known options—that these correlations cannot be caused by the locally controlled, "realistic" universe Einstein thought we lived in. This implies a different explanation such as entanglement.
The NIST experiments are called Bell tests, so named because in 1964 Irish physicist John Bell showed there are limits to measurement correlations that can be ascribed to local, pre-existing (i.e. realistic) conditions. Additional correlations beyond those limits would require either sending signals faster than the speed of light, which scientists consider impossible, or another mechanism, such as quantum entanglement.
The NIST results are more definitive than those reported recently by researchers at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.
In the NIST experiment, the photon source and the two detectors were located in three different, widely separated rooms on the same floor in a large laboratory building. The two detectors are 184 meters apart, and 126 and 132 meters, respectively, from the photon source.
The source creates a stream of photon pairs through a common process in which a laser beam stimulates a special type of crystal. This process is generally presumed to create pairs of photons that are entangled, so that the photons' polarizations are highly correlated with one another. Polarization refers to the specific orientation of the photon, like vertical or horizontal (polarizing sunglasses preferentially block horizontally polarized light), analogous to the two sides of a coin.
Photon pairs are then separated and sent by fiber-optic cable to separate detectors in the distant rooms. While the photons are in flight, a random number generator picks one of two polarization settings for each polarization analyzer. If the photon matched the analyzer setting, then it was detected more than 90 percent of the time.
In the best experimental run, both detectors simultaneously identified photons a total of 6,378 times over a period of 30 minutes. Other outcomes (such as just one detector firing) accounted for only 5,749 of the 12,127 total relevant events. Researchers calculated that the maximum chance of local realism producing these results is just 0.0000000059, or about 1 in 170 million. This outcome exceeds the particle physics community's requirement for a "5 sigma" result needed to declare something a discovery. The results strongly rule out local realistic theories, suggesting that the quantum mechanical explanation of entanglement is indeed the correct explanation.
The NIST experiment closed the three major loopholes as follows:
Fair sampling: Thanks to NIST's single-photon detectors, the experiment was efficient enough to ensure that the detected photons and measurement results were representative of the actual totals. The detectors, made of superconducting nanowires, were 90 percent efficient, and total system efficiency was about 75 percent.
No faster-than-light communication: The two detectors measured photons from the same pair a few hundreds of nanoseconds apart, finishing more than 40 nanoseconds before any light-speed communication could take place between the detectors. Information traveling at the speed of light would require 617 nanoseconds to travel between the detectors.
Freedom of choice: Detector settings were chosen by random number generators operating outside the light cone (i.e., possible influence) of the photon source, and thus, were free from manipulation. In fact, the experiment demonstrated a "Bell violation machine" that NIST eventually plans to use to certify randomness.
Human DNA is 1 to 2% Neandertal, or more, depending on where your ancestors lived. Svante Pääbo, founder of the field of paleogenetics and winner of a 2016 Breakthrough Prize, explains why that matters
Scientists use a genetic technique to illuminate neurons in up to 90 different colors. For more on this, check out “ The Brainbow Connection ,” a photo essay by Diana Kwon and Liz Tormes in the latest issue of Scientific American MIND .
Neuroscientists identify brain region that holds objects in memory until they are spotted.
Imagine you are looking for your wallet on a cluttered desk. As you scan the area, you hold in your mind a mental picture of what your wallet looks like.
MIT neuroscientists have now identified a brain region that stores this type of visual representation during a search. The researchers also found that this region sends signals to the parts of the brain that control eye movements, telling individuals where to look next.
This region, known as the ventral pre-arcuate (VPA), is critical for what the researchers call “feature attention,” which allows the brain to seek objects based on their specific properties. Most previous studies of how the brain pays attention have investigated a different type of attention known as spatial attention — that is, what happens when the brain focuses on a certain location.
“The way that people go about their lives most of the time, they don’t know where things are in advance. They’re paying attention to things based on their features,” says Robert Desimone, director of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research. “In the morning you’re trying to find your car keys so you can go to work. How do you do that? You don’t look at every pixel in your house. You have to use your knowledge of what your car keys look like.”
Researchers apply for licence months after Chinese team become first to announce they have altered DNA. Scientists in Britain have applied for permission to genetically modify human embryos as part of a research project into the earliest stages of human development.
The work marks a controversial first for the UK and comes only months after Chinese researchers became the only team in the world to announce they had altered the DNA of human embryos. Kathy Niakan, a stem cell scientist at the Francis Crick Institute in London, has asked the government’s fertility regulator for a licence to perform so-called genome editing on human embryos. The research could see the first genetically modified embryos in Britain created within months.
Donated by couples with a surplus after IVF treatment, the embryos would be used for basic research only. They cannot legally be studied for more than two weeks or implanted into women to achieve a pregnancy.
Though the modified embryos will never become children, the move will concern some who have called for a global moratorium on the genetic manipulation of embryos, even for research purposes. They fear a public backlash could derail less controversial uses of genome editing, which could lead to radical new treatments for disease.
Niakan wants to use the procedure to find genes at play in the first few days of human fertilization, when an embryo develops a coating of cells that later form the placenta. The basic research could help scientists understand why some women lose their babies before term.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has yet to review her application, but is expected to grant a licence under existing laws that permit experiments on embryos provided they are destroyed within 14 days. In Britain, research on embryos can only go ahead under a licence from an HFEA panel that deems the experiments to be justified.
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