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Something Strange Is Afoot Quantum. The word is at once evocative, bewildering and fascinat-ing.

Depending on your point of view, it is either a testament to theprofound success of scienc e or a symbol of the limited scope of human intuition as we struggle with the in escapable strangenessof the subatomic domain. To a physicist, quantum mechanics is oneof the three great pillars supporting our understanding of the nat-ural wo rld, the others being Einsteins theories of Special and GeneralRelativity. Einste ins theories deal with the nature of space and timeand the force of gravity. Quan tum mechanics deals with everything else, and one can argue that it doesnt matter a jot whether it isevocative, bewildering or fascinating; its simply a physical theorythat describes the way things behave. Measured by this pragmatic yardstick , it is quite dazzling in its precision and explanatory power.There is a test of quantum electrodynamics, the oldest and mostwell understood of the modern quant um theories, which involvesmeasuring the way an electron behaves in the vicinity of a magnet.Theoretical physicists worked hard for years using pens, paper andc omputers to predict what the experiments should nd. Experi-menters built and oper ated delicate experiments to tease out the ner details of Nature. Both camps indep endently returned preci-sion results, comparable in their accuracy to measuring the distance between Manchester and New York to within a few centimetres.Remarka bly, the number returned by the experimenters agreedexquisitely with that comput ed by the theorists; measurement andcalculation were in perfect agreement.This i s impressive, but it is also esoteric, and if mapping theminiature were the only concern of quantum theory, you might be forgiven for wondering what all the fus s is about. Science, of course, has no brief to be useful, but many of the techn ological and 2 The Quantum Universe social changes that have revolutionized our lives have arisen out of fundamental research carried out by modern-day explorers whoseonly motivation is to better understand the world around them.These curiosity-led voyages of discovery across all scienti c disci-plines have delivered increased life expectancy, intercontine ntal airtravel, modern telecommunications, freedom from the drudgeryof subsisten ce farming and a sweeping, inspiring and humbling vision of our place within an in nite sea of stars. But these are all ina sense spin-o s. We explore because we ar e curious, not becausewe wish to develop grand views of reality or better widget s.Quantum theory is perhaps the prime example of the in n-itely esoteric becoming the profoundly useful. Esoteric, because itdescribes a world in which a particle really can be in several placesat once and moves from one place to another by e xploring the entireUniverse simultaneously. Useful, because understanding the be hav-iour of the smallest building blocks of the Universe underpinsour understand ing of everything else. This claim borders on thehubristic, because the world is lled with diverse and complex phe-nomena. Notwithstanding this complexity, we ha ve discovered thateverything is constructed out of a handful of tiny particles t hatmove around according to the rules of quantum theory. The rulesare so simple that they can be summarized on the back of an enve-lope. And the fact that we do not need a whole library of books toexplain the essential nature of things is o ne of the greatest mysteriesof all.It appears that the more we understand about the elementalnature of the world, the simpler it looks. We will, in due course,e xplain what these basic rules are and how the tiny building blocksconspire to fo rm the world. But, lest we get too dazzled by theunderlying simplicity of the Un iverse, a word of caution is in order:although the basic rules of the game are s imple, their consequencesare not necessarily easy to calculate. Our everyday exp erience of theworld is dominated by the relationships between vast collections o f many trillions of atoms, and to try to derive the behaviour of plantsand peopl e from rst principles would be folly