Over November 2015, physicists and commentators alike the world over marked 100 years since the conception of the theory of relativity, which gave us everything from GPS to blackholes, and described the machinations of the universe at the largest scales. Despite many struggles by the greatest scientists of our times, the theory of relativity remains incompatible with quantum mechanics, the rules that describe the universe at its smallest, to this day. Yet it persists as our best description of the grand opera of the cosmos.
Incidentally, Einstein wasn’t a fan of quantum mechanics because of its occasional tendencies to violate the principles of locality and causality. Such violations resulted in what he called “spooky action at a distance”, where particles behaved as if they could communicate with each other faster than the speed of light would have it. It was weirdness the likes of which his conception of gravitation and space-time didn’t have room for.
As it happens, 2015 also marks another milestone, also involving Einstein’s work – as well as the work of an Indian scientist: Satyendra Nath Bose. It’s been 20 years since physicists realised the first Bose-Einstein condensate, which has proved to be an exceptional as well as quirky testbed for scientists probing the strange implications of a quantum mechanical reality.
Its significance today can be understood in terms of three ‘periods’ of research that contributed to it: 1925 onward, 1975 onward, and 1995 onward.
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