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CQTian writes for New Scientist magazine about the physics that may explain everything

23 October 2012

Vlatko Vedral, Principal Investigator at the Centre for Quantum Technologies, National University of Singapore. 13 October 2012 New Scientist cover thumb.

The cover of the 13 October issue of weekly popular science magazine New Scientist declares "Surprise Theory of Everything — It's been here all along". The cover line refers to a feature inside by Vlatko Vedral, a Professor at the Centre for Quantum Technologies, National University of Singapore and at the University of Oxford.

Vlatko's six-page article traces the triumph of thermodynamics in surviving the "complete regime change" wrought in physics when quantum mechanics and Einstein's relativity were introduced in the early 20th Century. The essay then explores whether "thermodynamics in the 21st Century can guide us towards a theory that will supersede them both".

The feature examines particularly how classical ideas of thermodynamics, which first emerged through study of steam engines, are remarkably compatible with quantum theory's description of the world of particles. It also explores links between thermodynamics and information theory.

"It is quite ambitious, but I just like this topic too much to completely skip the details," says Vlatko.

Vlatko notes, among other pieces of research, two results from CQTians with bearing on these questions. The first is a paper that he co-authored with CQT-Oxford Research Fellow Oscar Dahlsten and Markus Mueller of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. That paper (arXiv:1107.6029) shows that key tenets of thermodynamics remain consistent in any probabilistic theory — quantum mechanics being just one possible example.

The second piece of CQT research that Vlatko highlights is a paper by Principal Investigator Stephanie Wehner, also an Assistant Professor in the NUS Department of Computer Science, and Esther Hänggi, a former member of Stephanie's group. Their paper "A violation of the uncertainty principle implies a violation of the second law of thermodynamics" (arXiv:1205.6894) shows that thermodynamics and the fundamental uncertainty enshrined in quantum mechanics are deeply connected.

The article "The surprise theory of everything" is available to read (registration required) on the New Scientist website.

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