A team of physicists in Vienna has devised experiments that may answer one of the enduring riddles of science: Do we create the world just by looking at it?
by Joshua Roebke
In 1908 Karl Kupelwieser, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s uncle, donated the money to construct this building and turn Austria- Hungary into the principal destination for the study of radium. Above the doorway the edifice still bears the name of this founding purpose. But since 2005 this has been home of the Institut für Quantenoptik und Quanteninformation (IQOQI, pronounced “ee-ko-kee”), a center devoted to the foundations of quantum mechanics. The IQOQI, which includes a sister facility to the southwest in the valley town of Innsbruck, was initially realized in 2003 at the behest of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. However, the institute’s conception several years earlier was predominantly due to one man: Anton Zeilinger. This past January, Zeilinger became the first ever recipient of the Isaac Newton Medal for his pioneering contributions to physics as the head of one of the most successful quantum optics groups in the world. Over the past two decades, he and his colleagues have done as much as anyone else to test quantum mechanics. And since its inception more than 80 years ago, quantum mechanics has possibly weathered more scrutiny than any theory ever devised. Quantum mechanics appears correct, and now Zeilinger and his group have started experimenting with what the theory means.