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Physicists in Canada and Italy have derived quantum mechanics from physical principles related to the storage, manipulation and retrieval of information.

The new work is a step in a long, ongoing effort to find fundamental physical motivation for the math of quantum physics, which describes processes in the atomic and subatomic realms with unerring accuracy but defies commonsense understanding.

“We’d like to have a set of axioms that give us a little better physical understanding of quantum mechanics,” says Michael Westmoreland, a mathematician at Denison University in Granville, Ohio.

Quantum theory’s foundations currently rest on abstract mathematical formulations known as Hilbert spaces and C* algebras. These abstractions work well for calculating the probability of a particular outcome in an experiment. But they lack the intuitive physical meaning that physicists crave — the elegance of Einstein’s theory of special relativity, for instance, which says that the speed of light is constant and that laws of physics don’t change from one reference frame to the next.

Giulio Chiribella, a theoretical physicist at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Ontario, Canada, and colleagues based their approach on a postulate called “purification.” A system with uncertain properties (a “mixed state”) is always part of a larger “pure state” that can, in principle, be completely known, the team proposes in the July Physical Review A.

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Category: Science