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No. 67: Jan-Feb 1990

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A Watched Atom Is An Inhibited Atom

Strange as it may sound, the act of observing atoms to determine their energy states interferes with their quantum jumps between atomic energy levels. This is another "spooky" prediction of quantum mechanics theory.

This prediction was recently verified by W.M. Itano et al, at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, in Boulder. They employed radio waves to drive beryllium ions from one energy level to another. While the beryllium ions were jumping from one level to another, the researchers sent in short pulses of light to determine the ion's state. The more frequently they inter rogated the ions, the less apt they were to jump to new energy states, despite the stimulating radio waves.

(Peterson, L; "Keeping a Quantum Kettle from Boiling," Science News, 136:292, 1989. Also: Pool, Robert; "Quantum Pot Watching," Science, 246:888, 1989.)

Comment. It is logical, but perhaps not practical, to contemplate delaying or stopping radioactive decay by interrogating poised radioactive atoms.

From Science Frontiers #67, JAN-FEB 1990. 1990-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987