# The Certainty of Uncertainty

When first taking quantum mechanics courses, students learn about Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, which is often presented as a statement about the intrinsic uncertainty that a quantum system must possess. Yet Heisenberg originally formulated his principle in terms of the “observer effect”: a relationship between the precision of a measurement and the disturbance it creates, as when a photon measures an electron’s position. Although the former version is rigorously proven, the latter is less general and—as recently shown—mathematically incorrect. In a paper in *Physical Review Letters*, Lee Rozema and colleagues at the University of Toronto, Canada, experimentally demonstrate that a measurement can in fact violate Heisenberg’s original precision-disturbance relationship.

If the observer affects the observed, how can one even make such a measurement of the disturbance of a measurement? Rozema *et al.* use a procedure called “weak” quantum measurement: if one can probe a quantum system by means of a vanishingly small interaction, information about the initial state can be squeezed out with little or no disturbance. The authors use this approach to characterize the precision and disturbance of a measurement of the polarizations of entangled photons. By comparing the initial and final states, they find that the disturbance induced by the measurement is less than Heisenberg’s precision-disturbance relation would require.

While the measurements by Rozema *et al.* leave untouched Heisenberg‘s principle regarding inherent quantum uncertainty, they expose the pitfalls of its application to measurements’ precision. These results not only provide a demonstration of the degree of precision achievable in weak-measurement techniques, but they also help explore the very foundations of quantum mechanics. – *David Voss*