Top Ten Physics Breakthroughs of 2011

Physics World begins thusly:

The two physics stories that dominated the news in 2011 were questions rather than solid scientific results, namely “Do neutrinos travel faster than light?” and “Has the Higgs boson been found?”

After that disclosure, the Physics World editorial team has compiled a nice end-of-the-year list. The first place goes to Aephraim Steinberg and colleagues from the University of Toronto in Canada for their experimental work on the fundamentals of quantum mechanics:

Steinberg’s work stood out because it challenges the widely held notion that quantum mechanics forbids us any knowledge of the paths taken by individual photons as they travel through two closely spaced slits to create an interference pattern.

This interference is exactly what one would expect if we think of light as an electromagnetic wave. But quantum mechanics also allows us to think of the light as photons – although with the weird consequence that if we determine which slit individual photons travel through, then the interference pattern vanishes. By using weak measurements Steinberg and his team have been able to gain some information about the paths taken by the photons without destroying the pattern.

See the rest of the breakthroughs and links to the original articles.

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