August 27, 2014
Are We Living Inside A 2-D Hologram? – Fermilab Experiment To Test The Nature Of The Universe
John Hopton for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
A unique experiment at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) will look at the very structure of our universe and answer some big questions - including whether we live inside a 2-D hologram.
Fermilab researchers use a TV analogy to explain that the research is like looking at the data storage, or ‘pixels’ of space. We can look at our universe in the same way as looking closely at a TV screen - it is made up of tiny pixels, and the characters don’t know that the world they think is 3D is actually 2D.
According to Fermilab, “We could be clueless that our 3-D space is just an illusion. The information about everything in our universe could actually be encoded in tiny packets in two dimensions.” It is thought that information in the universe may be presented as a seamless image but stored like pixels, and that the natural “pixel size” of space is around 10 trillion trillion times smaller than an atom - a distance referred to by physicists as the Planck scale.
“We want to find out whether space-time is a quantum system just like matter is,” said Craig Hogan, director of Fermilab’s Center for Particle Astrophysics and the developer of the holographic noise theory. “If we see something, it will completely change ideas about space we've used for thousands of years.” Quantum theory suggests that we cannot know the precise location and the precise speed of subatomic particles. If, as the experiment seeks to prove, space comes in “2-D bits” with limited information about the exact location of objects, then space would be subject to the same uncertainty.
Scientists want to look at the “quantum jitter of space.” Just as matter’s quantum waves cause it to “jiggle” even when cooled to absolute zero, the ‘digitized’ universe we live in should have built-in vibrations, even at its lowest state of energy.
“Essentially, the experiment probes the limits of the universe’s ability to store information,” says Fermilab. “If there is a set number of bits that tell you where something is, it eventually becomes impossible to find more specific information about the location - even in principle.”
The trials, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science and other sources, and involving 21 scientists and students from Fermilab, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Chicago and the University of Michigan, will gather data over the course of a year, using Fermilab’s Holometer - a holographic interferometer which uses laser beams to record the light scattered from an object. The Holometer is “the most sensitive device ever created to measure the quantum jitter of space itself.”
The instrument is now working at full power and involves a pair of interferometers placed close to one another. Each of them sends a one-kilowatt laser beam (equal to 200,000 laser pointers) at a beam splitter and down two perpendicular 40-meter arms. When the light is reflected back to the beam splitter and the two beams recombine, fluctuations in brightness will be created if there is motion. These fluctuations can be analyzed to see how the beam splitter is moving, and if we can observe space's quantum jitter.
There will be other sources of vibrations, but the scientists’ task is not to be misled by “holographic noise” from other frequencies. The Holometer experiment is designed to identify and eliminate noise from conventional sources, such as radio waves emitted by nearby electronics. It is testing a frequency so high, at millions of cycles per second, that motions of normal matter are unlikely to cause problems.
“If we find a noise we can’t get rid of, we might be detecting something fundamental about nature - a noise that is intrinsic to space-time,” says Fermilab physicist Aaron Chou, lead scientist and project manager for the Holometer. “It’s an exciting moment for physics. A positive result will open a whole new avenue of questioning about how space works.”
Quantum: A Guide for the Perplexed - In this lively look at quantum science, physicist Dr. Jim Al-Khalili takes you on an entertaining and enlightening journey through the basics of subatomic physics