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Speed read
  • World's first global quantum physics experiment was conducted on November 30
  • Over 100,000 citizen scientists participated
  • Einstein v Bohr: who will win?

A few months back we told you about the first worldwide quantum physics experiment: The BIG Bell Test.

Scientists designed the BIG Bell Test as a collective effort to conduct quantum experiments powered by human randomness. If successful, the test would demonstrate the strange, spooky world of quantum physics, and would confirm or disprove Einstein’s interpretation of Niels Bohr’s quantum theory.

Bohr had made the seemingly preposterous claim that atoms lacked value until measured. This radical uncertainty principle didn’t set well with Einstein, and he completely rejected the theory.<strong>Gamers of the word, unite!</strong> Citizen scientists from all over the world generated random strings of ones and zeros to provide input for the world's first global quantum physics experiment. Courtesy ICFO.

“Admittedly, this certainly sounds very strange to us,” conceded Morgan Mitchell, lead scientist of the BIG Bell Test. “Bohr and the founders of quantum mechanics say ‘when you’re not looking at it, the position of an object doesn’t exist.’”

Well, the BIG Bell Test has come and gone, and we checked back with the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO) to see how their experiment fared.

“The test came out great, and the results surpassed our expectations,” says ICFO’s Alina Hirschmann. “Our goal was to make it to 30,000 users and we had over 100,000 users who completed over half a million missions, generating over 90 million bits.”

So, what did the BIG Bell Test find? Who was right: Einstein or Bohr?

The Big Bell Test

Over a 48-hour period, citizen scientists from around the world contributed to the BIG Bell Test, playing a video game to generate a string of random ones and zeros.

This random input was then used in experiments by 12 collaborating laboratories. Using the sequences provided by the participants, the scientists verified if their particles were intertwined by the "spooky action at a distance" Einstein could not accept.

By 1:00pm CET, the experiment passed the minimum number of participations needed to assure enough bits to power the tests, registering above 1,000 bits per second in a stable manner over the course of several hours.

<strong>Lay of the land. </strong> The BIG Bell Test put quantum mechanic's uncertainty principle to test. Over 100,000 citizen scientists took part in the experiment to find out if reality doesn't exist when we're not looking. Courtesy ICFO.

By early afternoon CET, some of the labs had obtained preliminary results, confirming violations of Bell’s inequality, and thus refuting Einstein, giving their complete support to the predictions of quantum physics.  

Implications for this confirmation are far-reaching. Apart from refining our knowledge of the physical laws that govern reality (no small feat), Mitchell sees applications for securing our digital communications.

“Because of the uncertainty principle, if we want to transmit information to one another, we can encode it in such a way that no one can get to it. In short, we can use microscopic quantum physics to keep our communications secure.”

Intercontinental collaboration

In Barcelona, in collaboration with ‘La Caixa’ Foundation, the BIG Bell Test team had the opportunity to share the project with an audience of more than 300 people gathered in the Auditorium of CosmoCaixa, who witnessed the experiments running in different labs in real time through several live connections. 

This group further contributed to the experiment by participating in mass in a final tournament of the video game, created with Kaitos Games to find the most random person in the audience. The event was streamed live around the world, and generated an audience of more than 300,000 people in China alone.

"The participation we achieved today for the Big Bell Test is absolutely astonishing and unprecedented,” says Carlos Abellán, researcher at ICFO and instigator of the Big Bell Test. "I’m excited about all the results we’re already receiving from the labs." 

Perhaps more important than offering preliminary confirmation for Bohr’s radical uncertainty theory, the BIG Bell Test succeeded in uniting the scientific world and society in a common goal — an experiment that has demonstrated the unique value of human randomness to study certain fundamental processes of nature.

ICFO would like to thank  all the institutions that have helped support this project, such as the Generalitat de Catalunya, the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, the Cellex Foundation, the Mir-Puig Foundation, the Foundation Catalunya la Pedrera, 'La Caixa' Foundation, AXA Research Fund, the European Research Council, Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA), the Severo Ochoa program of the Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness. 

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