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A "Macroscopic Violation" of Special Relativity

According to modern physics, the speed of light is a fundamental, unbreakable limit.  Yet two physicists are now claiming they have done just that, and propelled a stream of photons faster than the speed of light. 

Günter Nimtz and Alfons Stahlhofen of the University of Koblenz, Germany, have been researching a phenomenon known as quantum tunnelling.  Two prisms are placed together. When a light is shown through the prisms, a detector picks up the light and records information about the photon.  However, when the two prisms are separated, Nimtz and Stahlhofen discovered that photons would occasionally "tunnel" between the prisms -- arriving at the detector sooner than should theoretically be possible.

The two scientists say they have now tunneled photons "instantaneously" across a distance of up to one meter.  Their conclusion, stated in a recent paper, is that the speed limit of special relativity has been violated.  Dr. Nimtz claims quantum tunneling is a little understood process that is  "the most important" aspect of quantum physics, one that may be responsible for the computational efficiency of the human brain.

Being able to violate the speed of light would undermine our current understanding of space and time, and lead to a number of bizarre effects, such as being able to travel backwards in time.

However, Dr. Aephraim Steinberg, from the University of Toronto, disagrees with the findings.  He says its all just a matter of interpretation.  The "wave packet" of the virtual photon exceeded the speed of light, but no actual information was transmitted that fast.   Therefore, according to Steinberg, Einstein's cosmic speed limit remains safe.

Nimtz and Stahlhofen may be the first scientists to create a macro-scale experiment.

In a statement published sortly after the paper was announced, Nimitz claims, "For the time being, this is the only violation [of special relativity] that I know of."




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