Complementarity A new twist on the double-slit experiment. (Courtesy: Shutterstock/Andrey VP)
Topics: Modern Physics, Quantum Mechanics, Theoretical Physics
One of the most counterintuitive concepts in physics – the idea that quantum objects are complementary, behaving like waves in some situations and like particles in others – just got a new and more quantitative foundation. In a twist on the classic double-slit experiment, scientists at Korea’s Institute for Basic Sciences (IBS) used precisely controlled photon sources to measure a photon’s degree of wave-ness and particle-ness. Their results, published in Science Advances, show that the properties of the photon’s source influence its wave and particle character – a discovery that complicates and challenges the common understanding of complementarity.
The double-slit experiment is the archetypal example of complementarity at work. When a single photon encounters a barrier with two thin openings, it produces an interference pattern on a screen placed behind the openings – but only if the photon’s path is not observed. This interference pattern identifies the photon as a wave since a particle would create only one point of light on the screen. However, if detectors are placed at the openings to determine which slit the photon went through, the interference pattern disappears, and the photon behaves like a particle. The principle of complementarity states that both experimental outcomes are needed to fully understand the photon’s quantum nature.
Wave-particle duality quantified for the first time, Karmela Padavic-Callaghan, Physics World