The Secrets of Quantum Physics

Discover the history and science behind quantum physics

The Secrets of Quantum Physics is a documentary series tracing the story of arguably the most important, accurate and yet perplexing scientific theory ever – quantum physics.

Hosted by Jim Al-Khalili, the film tries to explain what quantum physics is, the history behind it and how humanity benefits from using it to understand the world around us.

Episode 1: Einsteins Nightmare

Episode 1: Einsteins Nightmare

In the first episode, Jim Al-Khalili traces the story and history of quantum physics.

The story starts at the beginning of the 20th century with scientists trying to better understand how light bulbs work. This simple question led them deep into the hidden workings of matter, into the sub-atomic building blocks of the world around us. Here they discovered phenomena unlike any encountered before – a realm where things can be in many places at once, where chance and probability call the shots and where reality appears to only truly exist when we observe it.

Albert Einstein hated the idea that nature, at its most fundamental level, is governed by chance. Jim reveals how, in the 1930s, Einstein thought he’d found a fatal flaw in quantum physics because it implies that sub-atomic particles can communicate faster than light in defiance of the theory of relativity.

For thirty years his ideas were ignored. Then, in the 1960s, a brilliant scientist from Northern Ireland called John Bell showed there was a way to test if Einstein was right and quantum mechanics was actually mistaken. In a laboratory in Oxford, Jim repeats this critical experiment – does reality really exist or do we conjure it into existence by the act of observation?

Episode 2: Let There Be Life

Episode 2: Let There Be Life

In this second episode, Jim Al-Khalili turns his attention to the world of nature. Can quantum mechanics explain the greatest mysteries in biology?

His first encounter is with the robin. This familiar little bird turns out to navigate using one of the most bizarre effects in physics – quantum entanglement, a process which seems to defy common sense. Even Albert Einstein himself could not believe it.

Jim finds that even the most personal of human experiences – our sense of smell – is touched by ethereal quantum vibrations. According to the latest experiments, it seems that our quantum noses are listening to smells. Jim then discovers that the most famous law of quantum physics – the uncertainty principle – is obeyed by plants and trees as they capture sunlight during the vital process of photosynthesis.

Finally, Jim asks if quantum physics might play a role in evolution. Could the strange laws of the sub-atomic world, which allow objects to tunnel through impassable barriers in defiance of common sense, effect the mechanism by which living species evolve?

The Secrets of Quantum Physics
  • Info
  • Release date2014
  • Full runtime
  • Director(s)Tim Usborne, Stephen Cooter
  • Production companyBBC