Non-Equilibrium Quantum World
Shoals of fish, storms, galaxies: Almost nothing in our world is in balance. But as common as the phenomena are, they are still misunderstood. That could now change - thanks to newly discovered universal behavior patterns in quantum systems.
If you look at the development of physics over the last century, the progress seems enormous: Thanks to quantum mechanics, we have a wide range of technologies that use lasers and microchips, for example; a few years ago, astronomers succeeded in detecting gravitational waves for the first time; and now there are even first prototypes of quantum computers. However, when physicists want to describe the turbulent flows at the foot of a waterfall, they reach their limits.
If many-particle systems become unbalanced, their behavior can often no longer be calculated exactly. This is frustrating for many researchers because nature is full of non-equilibrium: from the movements of microscopic particles to the largest galactic structures in the universe, from the dynamics of schools of fish to the ever-changing networks of telecommunications and society. Even life itself is an example of an unbalanced system because our bodies are constantly exchanging energy with the environment.
Phenomena out of equilibrium are therefore not only interesting for basic physics, but also for chemistry, biology, meteorology, industry and sociology. To date, the research area has many unanswered questions - especially when quantum mechanics comes into play. Because turbulence does not only occur in classic objects such as rivers or the atmosphere. Microscopic many-body systems can also be disturbed in such a way that they temporarily assume a state that changes over time before they return to equilibrium. But how, if at all, does this process take place? …