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Of Matter and Light
Legendary physicist John Archibald Wheeler remarked that "If you haven't found something strange during the day, it hasn't been much of a day." Coincidental with Dr. Wheeler’s death at 96, researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics had quite a day, creating a molecule from an atom and a couple of photons.

What the Planck Institute scientists accomplished was to form "a new quantum entity, the so-called atom-cavity molecule, made of matter and light, with its own characteristic energy spectrum." As the physicists modestly conclude, "our experiment enters a new regime, with nonlinear quantum optics at the level of individual atomic and photonic quanta." Moreover, "applications in quantum information science include a single photon transistor, where one photon controls the propagation of another photon."

The relation between the laws that regulate particle interactions and laws that regulate socioeconomic interactions may be underappreciated. While quantum mechanic theories may seem quite strange, they are based on a deep understanding of how systems function on a fundamental level and, crucially, are supported by empirical data. Thus, quantum mechanics serves as a model for socioeconomic regulation that needs to be based on a sound understanding of how economic systems function, and also requires support from quality empirical data.

At a time when many Western governments face severe budget shortfalls and increasing social welfare spending, questions are raised as to whether they can afford to continue investing in esoteric fundamental research that may, or may not, have any "practical" payoffs in foreseeable future. The answer is that we cannot afford to not fund research exploring the "beauty and diversity" of how our world works and how we may be able to improve its functioning.

See Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics [English]

See "Nonlinear spectroscopy of photons bound to one atom"

See CRE RegWeek describing how Einstein's lectures on electricity and magnetism demonstrate the role of data quality and transparency in illuminating complex subject matter

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