Time To Get Quantum With Science Goes To The Movies

The latest episode of Science Goes to the Movies premiered this weekend and dived deeply into quantum mechanics thanks to Doctor Who.

The guest is Doctor Mukund Vengalattore, atomic physicist and Assistant Professor of Physics at Cornell University.  His work on quantum theory attracted the show’s attention in part because it reflects the movements of a particular species in Doctor Who called The Weeping Angels.  Vengalatorre’s work explores how to control a quantum system, and was able to effectively ‘freeze’ particles in place through observation.  The Angels can be frozen in place by looking at them, so the parallel is clear.

Yet, as this is quantum physics we’re dealing with, it’s still very counterintuitive.Dr. Vengalatorre carefully does his best to explain to hosts Faith Salie and Dr. Heather Berlin some of the characteristics of quantum physics, including entanglement as well as the possibility of very small things traveling backwards in time.  While you may have other favorite portions of the conversation, I particularly appreciated at around 8 minutes 30 seconds when Dr. Berlin discusses why some people consider quantum physics as cool.  In her answer she draws some parallels with work in understanding consciousness and the appeal of the uncertainty or mystery in trying to figure it out.

The show ends with more specific discussion of whether or not certain things in Doctor Who could actually happen.  I shan’t spoil the details.

Next week we get to explore the economics of “The Hunger Games” with a former economic adviser to Vice President Biden.  I expect this to be the most explicitly political episode of the show to date.

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