In the 1970s, Stephen Hawking and Jacob Bekenstein discovered that the properties of black holes depended not on the volume of the black hole but on its area. This idea has been suggested as an explanation for various different phenomena, and for the first time, simulations show that something similar happens in the micro-world.
In a paper published in Nature Physics, a Canadian-American group of researchers looked at the properties of superfluid helium, the peculiar state of matter that helium achieves when cooled down to below 2 Kelvins (-271°C, -456°F).
In this state, the quantum mechanical properties of the substance become apparent and the helium atoms cannot be described independently anymore. Based on the study's numerical simulation, the properties of a sphere of 64 atoms of helium depend on its surface rather than its volume.
“It’s called an entanglement area law,” co-author Adrian Del Maestro, a physicist at the University of Vermont, said in a statement. “We have found the same type of law is obeyed for quantum information in superfluid helium.”
This concept is often referred to as holographic – just like a hologram is a 2D technique that gives the appearance of 3D, so these laws require one less dimension to get all that there is to know about the object of study.
This discovery could have applications for both theoretical and practical avenues. Superfluid helium is often hailed as an important resource for the construction of quantum computers, which could revolutionize how informatics work and deliver incredibly difficult calculations (by today's standards) without breaking a sweat.
The researchers, however, are clearly intrigued by the potential deeper meaning of this discovery. This connection between black holes and the microscopic world could provide some clues to solve the current impasse between general relativity and quantum mechanics, and take us a step forward toward a theory of everything.