Ultimately they captured significantly more data than their predecessors, and what they saw was astonishing. Their evidence suggested that pairs of photons from particle collisions remained polarized at right angles to each other—consistently—as if somehow connected, even at a distance. Their experiment had proved Wheeler’s pair theory, and Wu and Shaknov published their findings on New Year’s Day in 1950 in a one-page letter to the Physical Review. But it also became the first experiment to document evidence of something weirder: that the properties of entangled particles are always perfectly correlated, no matter how far apart they stray. Entanglement is so strange that Albert Einstein thought it proved where quantum physics went wrong.
In 2022 the Nobel Prize Committee honored experimental work on entanglement by three physicists. John Clauser, Alain Aspect and Anton Zeilinger had each produced increasingly convincing evidence for the phenomenon by improving on their predecessor’s experimental design. They ruled out one alternative explanation after another until, finally, entanglement was the only conclusion left standing. Although Wu’s 1949 experiment had not been designed to rule out competing explanations, historians agree it was the first to document entangled photons. Yet Wu, who died in 1997, was not mentioned when the 2022 awards were announced. It’s not the first time she has been overlooked.
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