Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Quantum books

Two book recommendations, covering recent developments in quantum physics.

1) A popular book by first time author Louisa Gilder (daughter of futurist George Gilder), who began as a physics major at Dartmouth, but switched to English after two years. Nevertheless she retained her interest in quantum physics and arranged an independent study on the topic of entanglement that led (seven or so years later) to The Age of Entanglement. The book is excellent and covers important topics of the last 50 years that have not yet made their way into historical treatments of quantum mechanics: Bohmian mechanics, Bell's theorem, entanglement, quantum cryptography and teleportation, etc. I picked it up in the bookstore not expecting very much, but a casual glance at the later chapters convinced me it was worth reading. While none of the physics was new to me, many of the human stories behind the developments were not just new, but fascinating.

Here is a nice interview with Gilder.

One of my favorite quotes from the book is from experimentalist Anton Zeilinger: The boundary of classical and quantum is just a question of money. If we can create superpositions of buckyballs today will we someday do it with live viruses? :-)

Amazingly, there is no mention of decoherence or Everett's work in the book, despite a long discussion concerning Bell and the Against Measurement debate! (See related links here.)

2) For serious quantum mechanics who want to understand modern theoretical and experimental developments related to entanglement, decoherence and macroscopic superpositions, I recommend the book Exploring the Quantum by S. Haroche and J.-M. Raimond.

The counter-intuitive aspects of quantum physics have been for long illustrated by thought experiments, from Einstein's photon box to Schrodinger's cat. These experiments have now become real, with single particles--electrons, atoms or photons--directly unveiling the weird features of the quantum. State superpositions, entanglement and complementarity define a novel quantum logic which can be harnessed for information processing, raising great hopes for applications. This book describes a class of such thought experiments made real. Juggling with atoms and photons confined in cavities, ions or cold atoms in traps, is here an incentive to shed a new light on the basic concepts of quantum physics. Measurement processes and decoherence at the quantum-classical boundary are highlighted.


anon said...

"who began as a physics major at Dartmouth, but switched to English"

She discovered boys.

T said...

This reminds me - have you got a reading list somewhere on your blog, or at Amazon, or could you start one, for your blog readers ?

Steve Hsu said...

T: look under the label "books", or search for that on the blog. Pretty much all the books I've discussed here will come up.

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