Grand illusion: Are we living in a 2D world?
From the Medill newsroom at Northwestern University,
Feb. 14, 2012
Imagine that the universe is a hologram, that everything is 2D, not 3D, and that your own vision is a part of a grand illusion. Now imagine a dinky trailer on the prairie and a band of physicists pondering the universe inside, puzzling out a way to prove or disprove whether the world is flat.
"You get a Ph.D. and you work in a trailer," said Tona Kunz, senior editor of the communications office at Fermilab, "But he loves it."
"He" is Chris Stoughton, astrophysicist and one of the leaders of quite possibly the quirkiest experiment at Fermilab. Stoughton and a crew of physicists and college students are in the midst of constructing the Holometer, essentially a laser beam that can measure data of gravitational waves at the smallest possible scale. The goal is to determine whether the universe is a hologram.
It's a test of Fermilab astrophysicist Craig Hogan's theory, which sprang up when he spoke with a fellow scientist who detected "noise" in gravitational waves that he couldn't explain. The Fermilab project is mining the same field as string theory, a murky and complex field of physics theorizing how gravity and particles may interact. Stoughton described it as reconciling the very big theory of the universe -general relativity, which relates to gravity - with the very small quantum mechanics.
In what can be called a seminal test of string theory, the Holometer will measure gravitational waves at a scale smaller than any technology of its kind has yet been capable of doing. When looking at waves at such a small scale, quantum mechanics and general relativity no longer apply, making it possible to see whether the universe is flat and everyone's eyes are playing tricks on them.