The Famous Double-Slit Experiment and the DIY Quantum Eraser

When Quantum Physics was introduced, the experiment was done with a stream of photons passing through the slits one photon at a time. Amazingly, over time the individual photons also created an interference pattern on a screen on the other side — meaning that each single photon was interfering with itself as it passes through both slits at the same time!

The Quantum Eraser experiment just makes this weird result even weirder. First polarizing lenses with different orientations are put in place so that you can tell whether the light went left or right through the slits. “Labeling” the photons in this way makes the light go back to acting like particles — the interference pattern is erased. And if you add still another polarizing filter, so that you can’t tell which way the particles went, the pattern reappears!

When I read in Orzel’s book that the May 2007 issue of Scientific American had a Quantum Eraser experiment you could do at home, I knew I had to try it! After a bit of searching, I was able to find the article online. (Actually, what I found is everything but the article, but the sidebars and other content include everything you need to do the experiment.) Like a lot of demonstrations that we try, it was a little hard to tell what, if anything, was happening, and I’m not sure it was completely successful. However, the results we did get were good enough to be worth sharing here. The article includes some trouble-shooting tips that may produce better outcomes if we ever try it again.

The experiment consists of four parts:

  1. Create a double-slit set-up using a cheap laser pointer as a light source.
  2. Add a right/left polarizing filter.
  3. Hold up a polarizing filter on a diagonal, which allows some “left” and some “right” particles to pass through.
  4. Make a polarizing lens which filters light on one diagonal on the top and the other on the bottom and add that to the set-up.

Obviously, since we were using a cheap laser pointer and weren’t sending light through one photon at a time, this experiment doesn’t prove that a single particle will go both ways at once, but it does give you a good approximation of what happens on a quantum level. Below is a description of what we did:

Materials:

  • laser pointer pen (from the supermarket)
  • polarized film
  • thick rubber band
  • white foam-core board (for projection screen)
  • Styrofoam cups
  • unused twist ties
  • tape
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