Monika Schleier-Smith

Monika Schleier-Smith is hoping to create space-time from scratch in her lab

Harrison Truong/Stanford University

SPACE-TIME may not be fundamental. Instead, according to the holographic principle, it emerges from something deeper, like a 3D hologram emerges from a flat surface. The principle says that space-time, and by extension gravity, arises from quantum entanglement.

With that in mind, Monika Schleier-Smith (pictured above), a physicist at Stanford University in California, is trying to create space-time from scratch. Her approach simulates a 2D holographic boundary around a universe, which, according to the holographic principle, is enough to encode all the information that describes the universe within. This “holographic duality” says that space-time and the lower-dimensional boundary that it emerges from are equivalent.

In essence, Schleier-Smith’s methodology involves tabletop experiments that have the potential to reveal how the holographic principle contributes to phenomena all the way down to those on the smallest scales, where space-time would emerge.

Lyndie Chiou: What is your experimental set-up?

Monika Schleier-Smith: The tools I work with are laser-cooled atoms. We have isolated atoms in a vacuum chamber and we use lasers to bring them to very low temperatures – millionths of a degree above absolute zero. We pin them where we want them and it’s essentially a starting point for having a very well-controlled model of a quantum system.

How can you tell the particles are entangled?

We’ve been studying this idea of holographic duality [by trapping] atoms between two mirrors that form an optical resonator. The cool thing about this optical resonator is it lets any atom talk to any other atom. Photons can travel between these atoms and …

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