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Blog

What is the strangest feature of quantum mechanics?

By James Dacey

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In the latest episode of the Physics World books podcast, released yesterday, we look at the enduring appeal of quantum mechanics in popular-science books. I presented the programme along with Physics World‘s editor Matin Durrani and the magazine’s reviews editor Margaret Harris, and we were joined by several authors of these books. In the podcast we explore the question of why it is that so many popular-science books have been written on the topic over the years, and why the public has such a strong fascination with the ideas of quantum physics. You can find more details and listen to the podcast here.

One of the aspects we discuss is the counterintuitive nature of the quantum world. On the one hand, this weirdness of quantum mechanics can be intriguing because it describes a world that is so different from our everyday experiences. But on the other hand, some of the concepts and the mathematics of quantum mechanics can be quite mind-boggling, and it can be difficult to explain these ideas in basic terms. I know from the experience of writing news articles about quantum mechanics that it can sometimes be very challenging to find everyday analogies to describe the quantum world while remaining faithful to the underlying physics.

But I want to know what you think about this, via this week’s Facebook poll question:

What is the trickiest feature of quantum mechanics to get your head round?

Wave–particle duality
The Heisenberg uncertainty principle
Entanglement, aka “spooky action at a distance”
The Pauli exclusion principle
Superposition

Have your say by casting your vote on our Facebook page. As always, please feel free to explain your response by posting a comment.

In last week’s poll we embraced Stephen Hawking-mania. The 70-year-old theoretical physicist appeared in an episode of the hit TV show The Big Bang Theory, which aired on CBS in the US last Thursday. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to see the show yet here in the UK, but I have seen Hawking in some of his earlier cameos, including his several appearances in The Simpsons and his role in Star Trek: The Next Generation. We asked you “In which TV show should Stephen Hawking make his next cameo appearance?”.

The most popular choice by a country mile was Doctor Who, which picked up 70% of the votes. In second place with 18% of the vote was the slightly more leftfield choice that Hawking should appear in the US sitcom How I Met Your Mother. Just 7% of voters opted for the musical comedy-drama Glee, while only 4% opted for the cult UK sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf.

So, Stephen Hawking; producers of Doctor Who. Make this happen. For the sake of our Facebook fans, please.

Thank you for all your participation and we look forward to hearing from you in this week’s poll.

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