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See Inside May 2007

A Do-It-Yourself Quantum Eraser

Using readily available equipment, you can carry out a home experiment that illustrates one of the weirdest effects in quantum mechanics

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Notoriously, the theory of quantum mechanics reveals a fundamental weirdness in the way the world works. Commonsense notions at the very heart of our everyday perceptions of reality turn out to be violated: contradictory alternatives can coexist, such as an object following two different paths at the same time; objects do not simultaneously have precise positions and velocities; and the properties of objects and events we observe can be subject to an ineradicable randomness that has nothing to do with the imperfection of our tools or our eyesight.

Gone is the reliable world in which atoms and other particles travel around like well-behaved billiard balls on the green baize of reality. Instead they behave (sometimes) like waves, becoming dispersed over a region and capable of crisscrossing to form interference patterns.

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