(Wired Science) Quarks and leptons, the building blocks of matter, are staggeringly small—less than an attometer (a billionth of a billionth of a meter) in diameter. But zoom in closer—a billion times more—past zeptometers and yoctometers, to where the units run out of names. Then keep going, a hundred million times smaller still, and you finally hit bottom: This is the Planck length, the smallest possible unit in the universe. Beyond this point, physicists say, the very notion of distance becomes meaningless.
The idea of a minimum size may seem bizarre, but it’s basic to quantum mechanics, which says that tiny things can take only certain discrete values, or quanta. Which leads to a rather large question: If that’s true of matter—and experiments say it is—what about the fabric of spacetime? Is the universe a smooth continuum, as Einstein’s theory of relativity implies? Or if we looked really close, would it all dissolve into a mosaic of shimmering pixels like a computer screen? In a word, are we living in a hologram?
Probing down to the Planck scale with a particle accelerator would take an instrument the size of our galaxy. But scientists at Fermilab, near Chicago, have a surprisingly modest new device called the Holometer that just might yield some clues. By shooting a pair of synchronized laser beams through long vacuum pipes, they hope to pick up the telltale jitter of those pixels in the emptiness. And if they find it? Welcome to the Matrix.
Source: Wired Science