This experiment by Chalmers has more than a few applications across a lot of annoying issues in physics. The basic, and by far most maddening, thing about quantum physics is that in the ultra-small world of quantum mechanics, physics is a whole new deal. The original discovery of a fundamental problem in which a particle may or may not “exist” at a given point, was one of the first clues to what are basically totally different laws.
The experiment is based on one of the most counterintuitive, yet, one of the most important principles in quantum mechanics: that vacuum is by no means empty nothingness. In fact, the vacuum is full of various particles that are continuously fluctuating in and out of existence. They appear, exist for a brief moment and then disappear again. Since their existence is so fleeting, they are usually referred to as virtual particles.
Chalmers scientist Christopher Wilson and his co-workers have succeeded in getting photons to leave their virtual state and become real photons, i.e. measurable light.
Note the expression: “particles that are continuously fluctuating in and out of existence”.
Hardly good enough, is it? According to the law of conservation of energy, energy isn’t lost. So the particles can’t be becoming “non-existent” in some form.
They may, however, be altering their state into a different condition, one not recognized. There’s a range of possibilities:
It’s well known that micro particles have a different relationship with gravity. Quantum particles are about as small as anything can get, so they may well have even fewer restrictions imposed by gravity.
It’s hardly impossible to imagine that quantum particles can respond to forces in multiple ways, and that their altered states in these responses simply aren’t recognizable. You can’t see what you’re not looking for, which is why the Chalmers experiment is such good fundamental science.
The dark matter application is even more interesting:
The problem with dark matter, (and one of the reasons people like me are so totally unimpressed with the to put it mildly vague, not to say occasionally evasive, definitions of dark matter and dark energy), is that the whole idea blithely assumes that a large percentage of the universe is made of a totally different type of matter.
That’s not very likely. The hierarchical order and state of matter from quantum to macro seems to be pretty consistent. Even antimatter follows the same basic structural rules. So why would most of the universe be doing something else? Why would matter so different have a direct correlation with known matter?
Now there’s a possible answer- It’s following quantum rules, not normal physics rules. Of course, quantum particles wouldn’t be visible. Quantum energies are so small they’d be extremely hard to detect, if at all.
The “non-existence” idea is lousy math too.
Imagine 1 + 1 = 2, except where there’s a few particles that exist or don’t exist according to rules which aren’t understood.
The correct equation would be 1 + 1 = 2 +/- ratio of transient particles @ defined rate of transitions in quantum states.
Asking a little too much of the grade school kids, perhaps?
The original idea of dark matter came about as a result of some quite innocent measurements of the mass of a galaxy by an astronomer. She found that the galaxy had less mass than it should.
OK. Let’s assume the calculations were correct, that physics is as usual 100% correct about everything, and that no integers were out of place. The fact that measuring the mass of black holes seems to be a rather erratic process couldn’t have anything to do with anything, either, and the mass in black holes would be comprised of what? Quantum matter, perhaps?
It’s also known that the early universe was made of “quantum soup”.
Are we to assume that all this quantum matter has gone missing? Did all those particles suddenly panic and think- “Oh dear! If we don’t form some sort of defined state of matter, those people at Stanford will yell at us! Quick, figure out a way of only having to exist occasionally, so we can get out of this socially awkward situation!”
Not too bloody persuasive, is it?
The probability is that quantum matter is the natural state of the universe. Matter, energy and light as we recognize them are evolved quantum properties in specific, structured forms.
The idea of non-existence is ridiculous in this quantum context. There can’t be “no relationship”, by definition, with matter for “dark” anything or quantum anything. If you define “dark” as something non-existent and then say it makes up most of the matter in the universe, you’re saying that percentage of the universe “doesn’t exist”, then going to look for it.
This is a very new ball game, and a very necessary one. Better yet, now there’s a working lead. Priority should be given to defining the “non-existent” state of these photons. Why are they outside a recognizable state? Why do they return to a visible state? Can quantum particles exceed the speed of light, meaning they’re “invisible”? Do they change speeds, or position, or what?
If something’s “extant” one second and “non-extant” the next, there has to be a reason. There also has to be a basis for the existence of "virtual" particles based on energy profiles. 0 and 1 are always going to be mutually excusive, unless there's a damn good reason for them to be otherwise.
Remember also that quantum mechanics don’t have to follow Einstein around like a sheep, unlike most physicists, and that normal things as basic as UV and IR light were unknown for centuries simply because there was no method of detecting them. Enough theory, find some working methods, damn it!
One day, physics may recognize that you can’t see things when you’re looking in the wrong places, using the wrong tools. If known theories don’t work, you need new theories.
I look forward to the day when physicists finally admit one basic thing- Science is about what we don’t know, not what we do know.
Leave the preaching to the underachieving pedants and get on with the job, guys.
Meanwhile, congratulations Chalmers, great work and a real achievement.