Real Quanta: Hard To Grasp

Real Quanta: Hard To Grasp

Posted on January 11 by Martijn Van Calmthout
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Don’t ask me why, but, being a science editor at a large Dutch newspaper, somehow fate has it I write about incomprehensible stuff mostly. Ripples in spacetime, the interior of the proton, lottery statistics, the Big Bang, reproduction of eels, molecular cars, the Higgs particle: a science editor is supposed to write effortlessly about it all. And I do. Scientists do their research and publish their results, and, when exciting enough, I will write my news article, often after much hard work. What I write is never an academic article, but rather a nice little newspaper story that explains what the news is and why this could be exciting.

Nowadays on our website we can check the number of readers of each article. That readership can be satisfying, but also daunting sometimes. It also leads to a strange paradox.

One of my biggest hits in the past years was the news from Delft University of an observation of the so-called spooky action at a distance. This is an effect of particles miles apart influencing each other without any physical interaction or even time enough to do so. This is a confusing but central element of quantum physics, and the one part that worried Einstein until his death.

After I wrote extensively about the breakthrough in this field, I got many excited reactions from readers. But somehow they all ended in the same tone: nice story but I still do not really understand what this is all about.

For years I felt a bit embarrassed whenever this happened. Apparently my story still had not been good enough. But now I finally understand that is not the case. Far from it. In reality my news story had awakened the inner scientist in my readers. They became intrigued and curious. And perhaps they even understood that in science the questions are just as important as answers.