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Last on

Sun 30 Jan 2011 13:30 BBC Radio 4

30 minutes
First broadcast:
Wednesday 29 December 2010

Robin Ince examines Schrodinger's Cat, the paradox at the heart of quantum physics, and discovers its influence on science and popular culture. Fifty years after the death of Nobel laureate Erwin Schrodinger, the quantum mysteries of his cat-in-a-box paradox still continue to drive physicists in research today. Can a living thing be both alive and dead at the same time?

Schrodinger's experiment was an almost playful creation, but one that stabbed at the heart of the 1930s physics establishment. By the 1950s, US physicist Hugh Everett concluded that, indeed, both a dead cat and an alive cat can exist, but in separate universes. His 'Many Worlds' theory inspired authors, from Philip K Dick to Philip Pullman.

Robin follows in the Austrian physicist's footsteps to Oxford University, where Schrodinger was once a fellow, and unearths some original archive at Magdalen College. Physicist Sir Roger Penrose speaks about its impact on quantum theory to this day. Why has Schrodinger's Cat gained such currency not just in science but popular culture? Writer Alan Moore tells how it created a new wave of 1960s sci-fi literature.

So why has Schrodinger's Cat caught the imagination of non-scientists? How is it misinterpreted and used to explain mankind's many unknowns? What is its place at the cutting edge of quantum physics? Robin meets today's physicists and thinkers who still tangle with the idea. And we find, no doubt, that Schrodinger's Cat (in all probability) is very much alive today.

Producer: Dominic Byrne
A Loftus production for BBC Radio 4.


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