Author discusses book about physics phenomenon

Photo by Daniel Jackovino George Musser, Glen Ridge resident and author of the book, ‘Spooky Action at a Distance.”
Photo by Daniel Jackovino
George Musser, Glen Ridge resident and author of the book, ‘Spooky Action at a Distance.”

GLEN RIDGE, NJ — A borough resident and science journalist has written a book about a problem tackled by Einstein.

The writer is George Musser, a former editor with Scientific American, and the problem is known in quantum physics as “nonlocality.” Musser acknowledged in a recent interview at the Glen Ridge Public Library that nonlocality experiments cannot altogether be easily understood outside a laboratory by trained scientists.

But in talking about “Spooky Action at a Distance,” the title of his book, and also a reference Einstein made about the phenomenon, Musser said the mystery will be explained and readers will also learn something about the scientists who researched the problem.

“Different things in different places can be connected,” Musser said.
Musser first defined the locality of an object as a sign that something exists in a specific place. He used a nearby library chair as an example.

“If I want to touch it, I have to reach my arm to it,” he said. “That’s common sense. To affect something, you have to touch it.”

But in nonlocality, Musser said by reaching and touching the chair next to him, he would also be touching or affecting the chair on the other side of the table.

“It’s sort of magical,” he said. “That bothers scientists.”
To further explain nonlocality, Musser said that it is necessary for a scientist to think not of chairs but atomic particles.

The scientist would measure a particle. This is done by determining how it is spinning. Musser said one should think of particles as tiny gyroscopes. By touching one gyroscope, the second gyroscope would also be touched in nonlocality. But the two gyroscopes, or particles, have to be prepared for nonlocality.

“OK, you have two particles,” he explained. “By bringing them together and separating them, they have this
connection. How do we know? We pass them through a particle detector and we see their spins.”
He said when measured, the spinning axis of both particles would be identically oriented or connected.
“Before the particles were brought together, the axis would be every which way,” he said. “This experiment has been done, the first time in the ’30s. I did it in my basement using gamma rays.”

Musser said nonlocality, having two particles with identical spins, is used in cryptology and secure communications.

He said optical fiber pathways between banks are determined to be secure by the banks by sending through the them a particle whose axis alignment is identical with that particle making the two particles connected. If the particle being sent to one bank arrives there with the same axis alignment as its connected particle, which the sending bank safely keeps, then the bankers know their pathway is secure.

But if the alignment of the received particle is different than the safely kept particle, then the bankers know
there is a hacker between them. They know this because as soon as a connected particle is infringed upon, or touched in any way, it loses its connection to the other particle and its axis goes every which way. Musser said the security of a nonlocal system is unbreakable, unlike any normal code.

The book took Musser four years to write.
“I was interested in the topic,” he said. “I interviewed a lot of people and spent time in Singapore, Santa Barbara and Geneva. I want everyone to understand it. I introduce the scientists and make it more human.”

Musser dedicated “Spooky Action at a Distance” to his wife, Talia, and his daughter, Eliana, who is a seventh-grader at Glen Ridge Middle School. He is also the author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to String Theory.”

“Non-locality has to do with the construction of space,” Musser said. “That particles are not apart but close to
each other.”
The book is published by Farrar Straus and Giroux.