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Department of Physics pres.

Department Colloquium | The Trouble with Quantum Physics, and Why It Matters

Adam Becker (Popular Science)

Quantum physics is arguably the most successful scientific theory ever devised. It explains an enormous variety of natural phenomena to an extraordinary degree of accuracy — everything from semiconductors to the Sun itself. Yet there is a problem: it's unclear what this immensely fruitful theory says about reality. What is going on in the world of quantum physics? Why does "measurement" play a special role in the theory? Is it really impossible to talk about what's happening to atoms and subatomic particles when we're not looking at them? For many years, the standard answer to questions like this was to "shut up and calculate," to ignore these issues and simply use quantum physics to predict the outcomes of experiments. There was also a historical myth that went along with this answer, a myth that said Einstein had once worried about these questions, but he was shown the error of his ways by the great Danish physicist Niels Bohr. Yet that myth is simply untrue, and these thorny quantum paradoxes are far more important than most physicists once believed. In this talk, I'll explain the puzzles at the heart of quantum physics, why they matter, and what really went down between Einstein and Bohr 90 years ago.

Bio: Adam Becker is an author, astrophysicist, and public speaker. His book, What is Real? The Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Physics (Basic Books, 2018) is a "thorough, illuminating exploration of the most consequential controversy raging in modern science," according to the New York Times. The Washington Post called it "splendid", and Science dubbed Adam "a riveting storyteller". Adam has also written for the BBC, NPR, Scientific American, NOVA, New Scientist, and other science media outlets. He recorded a video series with the BBC, and has appeared on numerous radio shows and podcasts. Adam has a PhD in cosmology from the University of Michigan and an undergraduate degree in philosophy and in physics from Cornell University. He is the recipient of an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Book Grant for his work on What Is Real. Adam is a visiting scholar in the Office for the History of Science and Technology at UC Berkeley. He lives in Oakland, California.

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