Theories based only on real numbers fail to explain the results of two new experiments

By Emily Conover, 20 HOURS AGO

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Imaginary numbers might seem like unicorns and goblins — interesting but irrelevant to reality.

But for describing matter at its roots, imaginary numbers turn out to be essential.

They seem to be woven into the fabric of quantum mechanics, the math describing

the realm of molecules, atoms and subatomic particles. A theory obeying the rules

of quantum physics needs imaginary numbers to describe the real world,

two new experiments suggest.

Quantum theory’s prominent use of complex numbers — sums of imaginary and real numbers —

was disconcerting to its founders, including physicist Erwin Schrödinger. “From the early days

of quantum theory, complex numbers were treated more as a mathematical convenience

than a fundamental building block,” says physicist Jingyun Fan of the Southern University

of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China.

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### Quantum physics requires imaginary numbers to explain reality

Quantum theory based only on real numbers fails to explain the results of two new experiments.

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