New Record: Quantum Teleportation of a Particle of Light Six Kilometers

New Record: Quantum Teleportation of a Particle of Light Six Kilometers

Through a collaboration between the University of Calgary, The City of Calgary and researchers in the United States, a group of physicists led by Wolfgang Tittel, professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Calgary have successfully demonstrated teleportation of a photon (an elementary particle of light) over a straight-line distance of six kilometres using The City of Calgary’s fibre optic cable infrastructure. The project began with an Urban Alliance seed grant in 2014.

This accomplishment, which set a new record for distance of transferring a quantum state by teleportation, has landed the researchers a spot in the prestigious Nature Photonics scientific journal. The finding was published back-to-back with a similar demonstration by a group of Chinese researchers.

“Such a network will enable secure communication without having to worry about eavesdropping, and allow distant quantum computers to connect,” says Tittel.

Experiment draws on ‘spooky action at a distance’

The experiment is based on the entanglement property of quantum mechanics, also known as “spooky action at a distance” — a property so mysterious that not even Einstein could come to terms with it.

“Being entangled means that the two photons that form an entangled pair have properties that are linked regardless of how far the two are separated,” explains Tittel. “When one of the photons was sent over to City Hall, it remained entangled with the photon that stayed at the University of Calgary.”

Next, the photon whose state was teleported to the university was generated in a third location in Calgary and then also travelled to City Hall where it met the photon that was part of the entangled pair.

“What happened is the instantaneous and disembodied transfer of the photon’s quantum state onto the remaining photon of the entangled pair, which is the one that remained six kilometres away at the university,” says Tittel.

City’s accessible dark fibre makes research possible

The research could not be possible without access to the proper technology. One of the critical pieces of infrastructure that support quantum networking is accessible dark fibre. Dark fibre, so named because of its composition — a single optical cable with no electronics or network equipment on the alignment — doesn’t interfere with quantum technology.

The City of Calgary is building and provisioning dark fibre to enable next-generation municipal services today and for the future.

Wolfgang Tittel, professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Calgary. Photo by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary
Wolfgang Tittel, professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Calgary. Photo by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary.

“By opening The City’s dark fibre infrastructure to the private and public sector, non-profit companies, and academia, we help enable the development of projects like quantum encryption and create opportunities for further research, innovation and economic growth in Calgary,” said Tyler Andruschak, project manager with Innovation and Collaboration at The City of Calgary.

“The university receives secure access to a small portion of our fibre optic infrastructure and The City may benefit in the future by leveraging the secure encryption keys generated out of the lab’s research to protect our critical infrastructure,” said Andruschak. In order to deliver next-generation services to Calgarians, The City has been increasing its fibre optic footprint, connecting all City buildings, facilities and assets.

Timed to within one millionth of one millionth of a second

As if teleporting a photon wasn’t challenging enough, Tittel and his team encountered a number of other roadblocks along the way.

Due to changes in the outdoor temperature, the transmission time of photons from their creation point to City Hall varied over the course of a day — the time it took the researchers to gather sufficient data to support their claim. This change meant that the two photons would not meet at City Hall.

“The challenge was to keep the photons’ arrival time synchronized to within 10 pico-seconds,” says Tittel. “That is one trillionth, or one millionth of one millionth of a second.”

Secondly, parts of their lab had to be moved to two locations in the city, which as Tittel explains was particularly tricky for the measurement station at City Hall which included state-of-the-art superconducting single-photon detectors developed by the National Institute for Standards and Technology, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“Since these detectors only work at temperatures less than one degree above absolute zero the equipment also included a compact cryostat,” said Tittel.

Milestone towards a global quantum Internet

This demonstration is arguably one of the most striking manifestations of a puzzling prediction of quantum mechanics, but it also opens the path to building a future quantum internet, the long-term goal of the Tittel group.

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Lab Discovers Titanium-Gold Alloy that is Four Times Harder than Most Steels

Lab Discovers Titanium-Gold Alloy that is Four Times Harder than Most Steels

Titanium is the leading material for artificial knee and hip joints because it’s strong, wear-resistant and nontoxic, but an unexpected discovery by Rice University physicists shows that the gold standard for artificial joints can be improved with the addition of some actual gold.

Crystal structure of beta titanium-3 gold

“It is about 3-4 times harder than most steels,” said Emilia Morosan, the lead scientist on a new study in Science Advances that describes the properties of a 3-to-1 mixture of titanium and gold with a specific atomic structure that imparts hardness. “It’s four times harder than pure titanium, which is what’s currently being used in most dental implants and replacement joints.”

Morosan, a physicist who specializes in the design and synthesis of compounds with exotic electronic and magnetic properties, said the new study is “a first for me in a number of ways. This compound is not difficult to make, and it’s not a new material.”

In fact, the atomic structure of the material — its atoms are tightly packed in a “cubic” crystalline structure that’s often associated with hardness — was previously known. It’s not even clear that Morosan and former graduate student Eteri Svanidze, the study’s lead co-author, were the first to make a pure sample of the ultrahard “beta” form of the compound. But due to a couple of lucky breaks, they and their co-authors are the first to document the material’s remarkable properties.

Emilia Morosan and Eteri Svanidze

“This began from my core research,” said Morosan, professor of physics and astronomy, of chemistry and of materials science and nanoengineering at Rice. “We published a study not long ago on titanium-gold, a 1-to-1 ratio compound that was a magnetic material made from nonmagnetic elements. One of the things that we do when we make a new compound is try to grind it into powder for X-ray purposes. This helps with identifying the composition, the purity, the crystal structure and other structural properties.

“When we tried to grind up titanium-gold, we couldn’t,” she recalled. “I even bought a diamond (coated) mortar and pestle, and we still couldn’t grind it up.”

Morosan and Svanidze decided to do follow-up tests to determine exactly how hard the compound was, and while they were at it, they also decided to measure the hardness of the other compositions of titanium and gold that they had used as comparisons in the original study.

Eteri Svanidze and Emilia Morosan

One of the extra compounds was a mixture of three parts titanium and one part gold that had been prepared at high temperature.

What the team didn’t know at the time was that making titanium-3-gold at relatively high temperature produces an almost pure crystalline form of the beta version of the alloy — the crystal structure that’s four times harder than titanium. At lower temperatures, the atoms tend to arrange in another cubic structure — the alpha form of titanium-3-gold. The alpha structure is about as hard as regular titanium. It appears that labs that had previously measured the hardness of titanium-3-gold had measured samples that largely consisted of the alpha arrangement of atoms.

The team measured the hardness of the beta form of the crystal in conjunction with colleagues at Texas A&M University’s Turbomachinery Laboratory and at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory at Florida State University, Morosan and Svanidze also performed other comparisons with titanium. For biomedical implants, for example, two key measures are biocompatibility and wear resistance. Because titanium and gold by themselves are among the most biocompatible metals and are often used in medical implants, the team believed titanium-3-gold would be comparable. In fact, tests by colleagues at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston determined that the new alloy was even more biocompatible than pure titanium. The story proved much the same for wear resistance: Titanium-3-gold also outperformed pure titanium.

Morosan said she has no plans to become a materials scientist or dramatically alter her lab’s focus, but she said her group is planning to conduct follow-up tests to further investigate the crystal structure of beta titanium-3-gold and to see if chemical dopants might improve its hardness even further.

Loop Quantum Gravity Theory Offers Glimpse Beyond the Event Horizon

Loop Quantum Gravity Theory Offers Glimpse Beyond the Event Horizon

Black holes are still very mysterious celestial bodies which, according to the majority of physicists, do not, however, escape the laws of thermodynamics. As a result, these physical systems possess an entropy though no real agreement has been reached about the microscopic origin of this propriety and how it should be calculated. A SISSA/Max Planck Institute (Potsdam) group has achieved important results in this calculation by applying a new formalism (Group Field Theory) of Loop Quantum Gravity (LQG), a very popular approach in the area of quantum gravity. The result is consistent with the famous Bekenstein/Hawking law, whereby the entropy of a black hole is proportional to a quarter of its surface area, while it avoids many of the assumptions and simplifications of previous LQG theory attempts. Additionally, it lends support to the holography hypothesis, whereby the black hole that appears three-dimensional can be mathematically reduced to a two-dimensional projection.

In principle, nothing that enters a black hole can leave the black hole. This has considerably complicated the study of these mysterious bodies on which generations of physicists have debated ever since 1916, the year their existence was hypothesized as a direct consequence of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. There is, however, some consensus in the scientific community on the fact that black holes possess an entropy, because their existence would otherwise violate the second law of thermodynamics. In particular, Jacob Bekenstein and Stephen Hawking have suggested that the entropy – which we can basically consider a measure of the inner disorder of a physical system – of a black hole is proportional to its area and not to its volume, as would be more intuitive. This assumption also gives rise to the “holography” hypothesis of black holes, which (very roughly) suggests that what appears to be three-dimensional might in fact be an image projected onto a distant two-dimensional cosmic horizon just like a hologram which, despite being a two-dimensional image, appears to us as three-dimensional.

As we cannot see beyond the event horizon (the outer boundary of the back hole), the internal microstates that define its entropy are inaccessible: so how is it possible to calculate this measure? The theoretical approach adopted by Hawking and Bekenstein is semiclassical (a sort of hybrid between classical physics and quantum mechanics) and introduces the possibility (or necessity) of adopting a quantum gravity approach in these studies, in order to obtain a more fundamental comprehension of the physics of black holes.

Planck’s length is the (tiny) dimension at which space-time stops being continuous as we see it, and takes on a discrete graininess made up of quanta, the ”atoms” of space-time. The Universe at this dimension is described by quantum mechanics. Quantum gravity is the field of inquiry that investigates gravity in the framework of quantum mechanics: this force is a phenomenon that has been very well described within classical physics, but it is unclear how it behaves at the Planck scale.

Daniele Pranzetti and colleagues, in a new study published in Physical Review Letters, present an important result obtained by applying a second quantization formulation of Loop Quantum Gravity (LQG) formalism. LQG is a theoretical approach within the problem of quantum gravity, and Group Field Theory is the “language” through which the theory is applied in this work.

“The idea at the basis of our study is that homogenous classical geometries emerge from a condensate of quanta of space introduced in LQG in order to describe quantum geometries” explains Pranzetti. “This way, we obtained a description of black hole quantum states, suitable to describe also ‘continuum’ physics, that is, the physics of space-time as we know it”.

Condensates, quantum fluids and the universe as a hologram

A “condensate” is a collection of ‘atoms’ – in this case space quanta – all of which share the same properties so that, even though there are huge numbers of them, we can nonetheless study their collective behavior simply, by referring to the microscopic properties of the individual particle. So now the analogy with classical thermodynamics seems clearer: just as fluids at our scale appear as continuous materials despite their consisting of a huge number of atoms, similarly, in quantum gravity, the fundamental constituent atoms of space form a sort of fluid, that is, continuous space-time. A continuous and homogenous geometry (like that of a spherically symmetric black hole) can, as Pranzetti and colleagues suggest, be described as a condensate, which facilitates the underlying mathematical calculations, keeping in account an a priori infinite number of degrees of freedom.

“We were therefore able to use a more complete and richer model compared with what done in the past in LQG, and obtain a far more realistic and robust result”, continues Pranzetti. “This allowed us to resolve several ambiguities afflicting previous calculations  due to the comparison of these simplified LQG models with the results of semiclassical analysis, as carried out by Hawking and Bekenstein”.  Another important aspect of Pranzetti and colleagues’ study is that it proposes a concrete mechanism in support to the holographic hypothesis, whereby the three-dimensionality of black holes could be merely apparent: all their information could be contained on a two-dimensional surface, without having to investigate the structure of the  inside (hence the link between entropy and surface area rather than volume).

The other two authors of the study are Daniele Oriti, of the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Potsdam, Germany, and Lorenzo Sindoni, former SISSA research fellow, now also at the Max Planck Institute in Potsdam.

Physicists Discover New State of the Water Molecule

Physicists Discover New State of the Water Molecule

Neutron scattering and computational modeling have revealed unique and unexpected behavior of water molecules under extreme confinement that is unmatched by any known gas, liquid or solid states.

In a paper published in Physical Review Letters, researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory describe a new tunneling state of water molecules confined in hexagonal ultra-small channels – 5 angstrom across – of the mineral beryl. An angstrom is 1/10-billionth of a meter, and individual atoms are typically about 1 angstrom in diameter.

The discovery, made possible with experiments at ORNL’s Spallation Neutron Source and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in the United Kingdom, demonstrates features of water under ultra confinement in rocks, soil and cell walls, which scientists predict will be of interest across many disciplines.

“At low temperatures, this tunneling water exhibits quantum motion through the separating potential walls, which is forbidden in the classical world,” said lead author Alexander Kolesnikov of ORNL’s Chemical and Engineering Materials Division. “This means that the oxygen and hydrogen atoms of the water molecule are ‘delocalized’ and therefore simultaneously present in all six symmetrically equivalent positions in the channel at the same time. It’s one of those phenomena that only occur in quantum mechanics and has no parallel in our everyday experience.”

The existence of the tunneling state of water shown in ORNL’s study should help scientists better describe the thermodynamic properties and behavior of water in highly confined environments such as water diffusion and transport in the channels of cell membranes, in carbon nanotubes and along grain boundaries and at mineral interfaces in a host of geological environments.

ORNL co-author Lawrence Anovitz noted that the discovery is apt to spark discussions among materials, biological, geological and computational scientists as they attempt to explain the mechanism behind this phenomenon and understand how it applies to their materials.

“This discovery represents a new fundamental understanding of the behavior of water and the way water utilizes energy,” Anovitz said. “It’s also interesting to think that those water molecules in your aquamarine or emerald ring – blue and green varieties of beryl – are undergoing the same quantum tunneling we’ve seen in our experiments.”

While previous studies have observed tunneling of atomic hydrogen in other systems, the ORNL discovery that water exhibits such tunneling behavior is unprecedented. The neutron scattering and computational chemistry experiments showed that, in the tunneling state, the water molecules are delocalized around a ring so the water molecule assumes an unusual double top-like shape.

“The average kinetic energy of the water protons directly obtained from the neutron experiment is a measure of their motion at almost absolute zero temperature and is about 30 percent less than it is in bulk liquid or solid water,” Kolesnikov said. “This is in complete disagreement with accepted models based on the energies of its vibrational modes.”

First principle simulations made by Narayani Choudhury of Lake Washington Institute of Technology and University of Washington-Bothell showed that the tunneling behavior is coupled to the vibrational dynamics of the beryl structure.

You’re Not Irrational, You’re Just Quantum Probabilistic: Researchers Explain Human Decision-making With Physics Theory

You’re Not Irrational, You’re Just Quantum Probabilistic: Researchers Explain Human Decision-making With Physics Theory

The next time someone accuses you of making an irrational decision, just explain that you’re obeying the laws of quantum physics.

A new trend taking shape in psychological science not only uses quantum physics to explain humans’ (sometimes) paradoxical thinking, but may also help researchers resolve certain contradictions among the results of previous psychological studies.

According to Zheng Joyce Wang and others who try to model our decision-making processes mathematically, the equations and axioms that most closely match human behavior may be ones that are rooted in quantum physics.

“We have accumulated so many paradoxical findings in the field of cognition, and especially in decision-making,” said Wang, who is an associate professor of communication and director of the Communication and Psychophysiology Lab at The Ohio State University.

“Whenever something comes up that isn’t consistent with classical theories, we often label it as ‘irrational.’ But from the perspective of quantum cognition, some findings aren’t irrational anymore. They’re consistent with quantum theory–and with how people really behave.”

In two new review papers in academic journals, Wang and her colleagues spell out their new theoretical approach to psychology. One paper appears in Current Directions in Psychological Science, and the other in Trends in Cognitive Sciences.

Their work suggests that thinking in a quantum-like way¬–essentially not following a conventional approach based on classical probability theory–enables humans to make important decisions in the face of uncertainty, and lets us confront complex questions despite our limited mental resources.

When researchers try to study human behavior using only classical mathematical models of rationality, some aspects of human behavior do not compute. From the classical point of view, those behaviors seem irrational, Wang explained.

For instance, scientists have long known that the order in which questions are asked on a survey can change how people respond–an effect previously thought to be due to vaguely labeled effects, such as “carry-over effects” and “anchoring and adjustment,” or noise in the data. Survey organizations normally change the order of questions between respondents, hoping to cancel out this effect. But in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year, Wang and collaborators demonstrated that the effect can be precisely predicted and explained by a quantum-like aspect of people’s behavior.

We usually think of quantum physics as describing the behavior of sub-atomic particles, not the behavior of people. But the idea is not so far-fetched, Wang said. She also emphasized that her research program neither assumes nor proposes that our brains are literally quantum computers. Other research groups are working on that idea; Wang and her collaborators are not focusing on the physical aspects of the brain, but rather on how abstract mathematical principles of quantum theory can shed light on human cognition and behaviors.

“In the social and behavioral sciences as a whole, we use probability models a lot,” she said. “For example, we ask, what is the probability that a person will act a certain way or make a certain decision? Traditionally, those models are all based on classical probability theory–which arose from the classical physics of Newtonian systems. So it’s really not so exotic for social scientists to think about quantum systems and their mathematical principles, too.”

Quantum physics deals with ambiguity in the physical world. The state of a particular particle, the energy it contains, its location–all are uncertain and have to be calculated in terms of probabilities.

Quantum cognition is what happens when humans have to deal with ambiguity mentally. Sometimes we aren’t certain about how we feel, or we feel ambiguous about which option to choose, or we have to make decisions based on limited information.

“Our brain can’t store everything. We don’t always have clear attitudes about things. But when you ask me a question, like ‘What do you want for dinner?” I have to think about it and come up with or construct a clear answer right there,” Wang said. “That’s quantum cognition.”

“I think the mathematical formalism provided by quantum theory is consistent with what we feel intuitively as psychologists. Quantum theory may not be intuitive at all when it is used to describe the behaviors of a particle, but actually is quite intuitive when it is used to describe our typically uncertain and ambiguous minds.”

She used the example of Schrödinger’s cat–the thought experiment in which a cat inside a box has some probability of being alive or dead. Both possibilities have potential in our minds. In that sense, the cat has a potential to become dead or alive at the same time. The effect is called quantum superposition. When we open the box, both possibilities are no longer superimposed, and the cat must be either alive or dead.

With quantum cognition, it’s as if each decision we make is our own unique Schrödinger’s cat.

As we mull over our options, we envision them in our mind’s eye. For a time, all the options co-exist with different degrees of potential that we will choose them: That’s superposition. Then, when we zero in on our preferred option, the other options cease to exist for us.

The task of modeling this process mathematically is difficult in part because each possible outcome adds dimensions to the equation. For instance, a Republican who is trying to decide among the candidates for U.S. president in 2016 is currently confronting a high-dimensional problem with almost 20 candidates. Open-ended questions, such as “How do you feel?” have even more possible outcomes and more dimensions.

With the classical approach to psychology, the answers might not make sense, and researchers have to construct new mathematical axioms to explain behavior in that particular instance. The result: There are many classical psychological models, some of which are in conflict, and none of which apply to every situation.

With the quantum approach, Wang and her colleagues argued, many different and complex aspects of behavior can be explained with the same limited set of axioms. The same quantum model that explains how question order changes people’s survey answers also explains violations of rationality in the prisoner’s dilemma paradigm, an effect in which people cooperate even when it’s in their best interest not to do so.

“The prisoner’s dilemma and question order are two completely different effects in classical psychology, but they both can be explained by the same quantum model,” Wang said. “The same quantum model has been used to explain many other seemingly unrelated, puzzling findings in psychology. That’s elegant.”

Researchers Discover First Sensor of Earth’s Magnetic Field in an Animal

Researchers Discover First Sensor of Earth’s Magnetic Field in an Animal

A team of scientists and engineers at The University of Texas at Austin has identified the first sensor of the Earth’s magnetic field in an animal, finding in the brain of a tiny worm a big clue to a long-held mystery about how animals’ internal compasses work.

Animals as diverse as migrating geese, sea turtles and wolves are known to navigate using the Earth’s magnetic field. But until now, no one has pinpointed quite how they do it. The sensor, found in worms called C. elegans, is a microscopic structure at the end of a neuron that other animals probably share, given similarities in brain structure across species. The sensor looks like a nano-scale TV antenna, and the worms use it to navigate underground.

“Chances are that the same molecules will be used by cuter animals like butterflies and birds,” said Jon Pierce-Shimomura, assistant professor of neuroscience in the College of Natural Sciences and member of the research team. “This gives us a first foothold in understanding magnetosensation in other animals.”

The researchers discovered that hungry worms in gelatin-filled tubes tend to move down, a strategy they might use when searching for food.

Magnetosensor in C. elegans worms
Inside the head of the worm C. elegans, the TV antenna-like structure at the tip of the AFD neuron (green) is the first identified sensor for Earth’s magnetic field. Illustration by Andrés Vidal-Gadea.

When the researchers brought worms into the lab from other parts of the world, the worms didn’t all move down. Depending on where they were from — Hawaii, England or Australia, for example — they moved at a precise angle to the magnetic field that would have corresponded to down if they had been back home. For instance, Australian worms moved upward in tubes. The magnetic field’s orientation varies from spot to spot on Earth, and each worm’s magnetic field sensor system is finely tuned to its local environment, allowing it to tell up from down.

The research is published this week in the journal eLife.

The study’s lead author is Andrés Vidal-Gadea, a former postdoctoral researcher in the College of Natural Sciences at UT Austin, now a faculty member at Illinois State University. He noted that C. elegans is just one of myriad species living in the soil, many of which are known to migrate vertically.

“I’m fascinated by the prospect that magnetic detection could be widespread across soil dwelling organisms,” said Vidal-Gadea.

The neuroscientists and engineers, who use C. elegans in their research into Alzheimer’s disease and addiction, had previously discovered the worm’s ability to sense humidity. That work led them to ask what else the worms might be able to sense, such as magnetic fields.

In 2012, scientists from Baylor College of Medicine announced the discovery of brain cells in pigeons that process information about magnetic fields, but they did not discover which part of the body senses the fields. That team and others have proposed a magnetosensor in the birds’ inner ear.

“It’s been a competitive race to find the first magnetosensory neuron,” said Pierce-Shimomura. “And we think we’ve won with worms, which is a big surprise because no one suspected that worms could sense the Earth’s magnetic field.”

The neuron sporting a magnetic field sensor, called an AFD neuron, was already known to sense carbon dioxide levels and temperature.

The researchers discovered the worms’ magnetosensory abilities by altering the magnetic field around them with a special magnetic coil system and then observing changes in behavior. They also showed that worms which were genetically engineered to have a broken AFD neuron did not orient themselves up and down as do normal worms. Finally, the researchers used a technique called calcium imaging to demonstrate that changes in the magnetic field cause the AFD neuron to activate.

Pierce-Shimomura suggested this research might open up the possibility of manipulating magnetic fields to protect agricultural crops from harmful pests.Other members of the research team from the College of Natural Sciences are Joshua Russell, a former graduate student who completed his Ph.D.; Kristi Ward, a former undergraduate; and Celia Beron, a current undergraduate. Research team members from the Cockrell School of Engineering are: Dr. Adela Ben-Yakar, associate professor of mechanical engineering; Navid Ghorashian, a former graduate student who completed his Ph.D.; and Sertan Gokce, a current graduate student.

Support for this research came from the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Black Holes Don’t Erase Information, Scientists Say

Black Holes Don’t Erase Information, Scientists Say

Shred a document, and you can piece it back together. Burn a book, and you could theoretically do the same. But send information into a black hole, and it’s lost forever.

That’s what some physicists have argued for years: That black holes are the ultimate vaults, entities that suck in information and then evaporate without leaving behind any clues as to what they once contained.

But new research shows that this perspective may not be correct.

“According to our work, information isn’t lost once it enters a black hole,” says Dejan Stojkovic, PhD, associate professor of physics at the University at Buffalo. “It doesn’t just disappear.”

Stojkovic’s new study, “Radiation from a Collapsing Object is Manifestly Unitary,” appeared on March 17 in Physical Review Letters, with UB PhD student Anshul Saini as co-author.

The paper outlines how interactions between particles emitted by a black hole can reveal information about what lies within, such as characteristics of the object that formed the black hole to begin with, and characteristics of the matter and energy drawn inside.

This is an important discovery, Stojkovic says, because even physicists who believed information was not lost in black holes have struggled to show, mathematically, how this happens. His new paper presents explicit calculations demonstrating how information is preserved, he says.

The research marks a significant step toward solving the “information loss paradox,” a problem that has plagued physics for almost 40 years, since Stephen Hawking first proposed that black holes could radiate energy and evaporate over time. This posed a huge problem for the field of physics because it meant that information inside a black hole could be permanently lost when the black hole disappeared — a violation of quantum mechanics, which states that information must be conserved.

Information hidden in particle interactions

In the 1970s, Hawking proposed that black holes were capable of radiating particles, and that the energy lost through this process would cause the black holes to shrink and eventually disappear. Hawking further concluded that the particles emitted by a black hole would provide no clues about what lay inside, meaning that any information held within a black hole would be completely lost once the entity evaporated.

Though Hawking later said he was wrong and that information could escape from black holes, the subject of whether and how it’s possible to recover information from a black hole has remained a topic of debate.

Stojkovic and Saini’s new paper helps to clarify the story.

Instead of looking only at the particles a black hole emits, the study also takes into account the subtle interactions between the particles. By doing so, the research finds that it is possible for an observer standing outside of a black hole to recover information about what lies within.

Interactions between particles can range from gravitational attraction to the exchange of mediators like photons between particles. Such “correlations” have long been known to exist, but many scientists discounted them as unimportant in the past.

“These correlations were often ignored in related calculations since they were thought to be small and not capable of making a significant difference,” Stojkovic says. “Our explicit calculations show that though the correlations start off very small, they grow in time and become large enough to change the outcome.”

The study was partially funded by the National Science Foundation.