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Quantum Entanglement: The discovery, nature, and implications of a peculiar phenomenon

By Jeff McLeod

From the Author: As an undergraduate just starting to dig a little deeper into my field of study (physics, I’ve learned, becomes much more rewarding the closer one looks at any one of its facets), I first read about the concept of quantum entanglement in Michio Kaku’s Physics of the Impossible. In his attempts to provide some realistic context to popular concepts in science fiction, Kaku introduces entanglement as a “real life” example of teleportation – though of course, as you will read, not in the “Beam me up, Scotty” sense. Thus, spurred by a somewhat naïve fascination as well as a confident desire to learn what I could about this at once intriguing and daunting area of quantum physics, I embarked on what would become one of the most rewarding academic explorations of my time at Goucher so far: I decided to do the final project of my Fall 2009 Modern Physics course on quantum entanglement. When I asked my professor, Dr. Ben Sugerman, what he thought of my topic, he told me somewhat incredulously, “good luck.” Though much of the physics and mathematics behind entanglement was beyond my level at the time, I managed to gain an adequate understanding of the subject using sheer perseverance, and some quality source material as well as encouragement from my friends and mentors. Writing this paper gave me a solid foundation upon which to start my undergraduate course in quantum mechanics the following semester. During that more detailed and intensive course, I gained an even greater respect for the elegance of the more intricate details of quantum theory presented in this paper. It is my hope that some of this elegance might be demonstrated to the reader.

From the Faculty Nominator: Modern Physics (e.g. Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Particles and Nuclei) covers some of the strangest and most fascinating aspects of the world in which we live. To supplement the survey of these subjects that we undertake in Phy 220, the Department of Physics and Astronomy also asks each student to write an in-depth research paper on a topic they find particularly interesting. Perhaps the strangest phenomenon of all is what Einstein himself called the "spooky action at a distance" of Quantum Entanglement, whereby two particles that have no possible way of communicating with each other seemingly violate almost every law of physics and do just exactly that. Jeff McLeod ('11) wrote an excellent examination of the history, physics, and applications of quantum entanglement, and I am exceptionally pleased that it is now available to the Verge readership.

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