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December 30th, 2009
Say 'cheese'? No, say 'quantum mechanics.'
Getting a digital camera for Christmas? Before you fire it up to capture Uncle Wally's fateful fifth trip to the punch bowl, take a moment to picture this: You've got a genuine scientific marvel in your mitts. In fact, it took nothing less than two Nobel prizes and a revolution in physics in order for you to point and shoot.
Why? Because to take a filmless picture, your camera or camcorder relies on, um, quantum mechanics. In particular, it exploits the fact -- revealed by Albert Einstein himself -- that a beam of light, which behaves like a wave in some circumstances, acts like a bunch of separate particles in other circumstances. (If that seems infuriatingly contradictory, suck it up. It's just how we do things in this cosmos. Or go complain to the management.)
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