Is the Universe real or just an illusion? The holometer aims to find out...


November 4, 2010

Conceptual design of the Fermilab holometer

Conceptual design of the Fermilab holometer

Image Gallery (2 images)

A team of researchers at the US Department of Energy's Fermilab are trying to take a measurement of the fabric of spacetime to show that there is a finite unit that makes up the universe. To do so, they have created the world's most accurate clock, the holographic interferometer or holometer.

Is reality a 3D hologram of a 2D universe? This is a question that the researchers are asking almost a hundred years after physicist Max Planck came up with the idea of a finite measurement of distance, leading to the concept of Planck distance and Planck time. Stephen Hawking built on this concept to suggest that there is a discrete fidelity or resolution to the universe – sort of like pixels in a picture. Further credence was given to the idea when German scientists working on the GEO600 project noticed distortions in their observations while studying the gravitational waves created by black holes. The cause of this distortion is thought to be because the team were approaching the lower limit of the universe's resolution. They might have been the first to see the fabric of reality! So, why is the universe two-dimensional you ask? Because at these smallest of distances (Planck scale units), time and the third dimension of space become intertwined or one, leaving only two spatial dimensions or a 2D universe.

What the team at Fermilab are trying to achieve is to take a measurement of this fabric of spacetime, to show that there is a finite unit that makes up the universe. To do this they have created the world's most accurate clock, the holographic interferometer or holometer. While the team are currently testing a one-meter (3.28-foot)-long prototype of the instrument, they plan to take readings using a 40m (131-foot) device which will be constructed in the coming months.

“If there is a minimum interval of time, or a maximum frequency in nature, there is a corresponding limit on the fidelity of space and time. Everyone is familiar these days with the blurry and pixelated images, or noisy sound transmission, associated with poor internet bandwidth. The holometer seeks to detect the equivalent blurriness or noise in reality itself, associated with the ultimate frequency limit imposed by nature,” the Fermilab team said.

“More recently, theoretical studies of black holes, and later in string theory and other forms of unification, have suggested that physics on the Planck scale is holographic. It is conjectured that space is two dimensional, and the third dimension is inextricably linked with time. If so, our three-dimensional world is a kind of approximate illusion that emerges only on scales much larger than the Planck length.”

The holometer works by splitting a light beam in two, with the two separate parts traveling in different directions and then being brought back together. Once they are brought together, any distortion can be measured. What Fermilab particle astrophysicist Craig Hogan suggests is that these distortions would be caused by spacetime having a finite resolution or Planck scale.

“People trying to tie reality together don’t have any data, just a lot of beautiful math. So we want to build a machine which will be the most sensitive measurement ever made of spacetime itself, that’s the holometer. The hope is that this gives them something to work with,” Hogan said.

Murmurs in the scientific community are already discrediting the ideas, as they are created out of math rather than hard data, and because they contradict the fundamentals of classical geometry. Even so, Hogan believes that his theory would answer many of the unanswered questions surrounding black holes and in other areas of theoretical physics. It is also thought by many that the distortions observed by the German team on the GEO600 project were due to equipment noise, and not because of approaching a theoretical limit of the universe's resolution.

The first data obtained by the holometer is expected sometime next year.

Via Symmetry Breaking.


Seems somewhat similar to the Michelson-Morly experiment ? Perhaps they will end up proving the existence of the ether after all...

Peter Winquist

That seems somewhat arrogant; declaring the universe is pixelated rather than admitting their equipment\'s limits.

Facebook User

Yes. They are arrogant and wont admit their equipment has limits. That\'s why they are not developing an experiment to gain more understanding of the situation, and also why there can never be more than one opinion, experience or theory resulting from an outcome.

Facebook User

I agree with facebook user - seems this will only discover the equipment limitations, as because the equipment is also of this universe it will be bound by the same laws of the universe it is trying to measure... I wonder what their \'mathematical\' explanation of that is.


What if there is no \"matter\" but only various levels, clumps and speeds of energy? Time, distance and temperature may be all that cause us to believe in \"matter\". In other words you cannot measure what does not exist. But you cannot disprove \"matter\" exists if you yourself are a part of it. The proof would result in your own existance being denied.

Facebook User

omg. jizzes. guys, read some self-reference before discussing any further. im 15 and knows more than you about this. word.

Facebook User all breaks down into pure math at the end anyway, just a bunch of rules and laws....why do you think neutrino's move faster than the speed of light....and for the 15 year old...why not enlighten us on some of your ideas?

Sean Collins

@Facebook User Yes matter is an illusion - an emergent phenomenon where energy in quantum fields exist in stable minimum configurations. There is an excellent description by Frank Wilczek on the origins of mass in the universe.

Able Lawrence

@Facebook User: So, matter is an illusion ? Put your body (your body is matter, too) in front of a truck at 60 miles per hour and you will see perfectly the illusion. Are You an illusion, too? Because you are matter. Think about it as a task. YOU ARE NOT REAL?! Are you sure? Why? Just because some scientific made an experiment with only 500 year studying the thing that they name Universe? Your first and enormous mistake is to believe that you have the truth in your pocket. Your arrogant kill you. But obviously, you are 15 year old. The Universe is very complex and you are NOTHING. The word "illusion" it is not applicable to you, inside the Universe.

Rene Hernandez
Post a Comment

Login with your Gizmag account:

Related Articles
Looking for something? Search our articles