This is random

Researchers believe that have finally cracked the code when it comes to making a random number generator.

Randomness is important in everyday life. Things such as polls to determine how a large population feels about a topic (for example, a Presidential race), can be done with a random sample of a small population. But how do you choose that random population?

On your computer, randomness is an important key to keeping your files, photos, and personal information safe.

If your password is truly random, no one can guess what it is. Randomness has other, seemingly random (hehe) applications too, such as the use of random numbers in math to quickly determine if a number is prime or not.

Generating random numbers, however, is more difficult than you might think.

Computers that use a code to determine random numbers can be hacked, with the resulting “random” numbers now being known.

There are very few places we see true randomness in the world, and scienctists have now created the ultimate, unhackable, uncrackable, random number generator.

The generator uses entangled photons that are either spin up or spin down (in fact, one of the entangled photons is spin up, the other is spin down).

These photons are now like a “heads” and a “tails” in a random coin flip. The heads can be read as a 1, while the tails are read as a 0, creating a random arrangement of 0s and 1s – which can become a binary number.

This process isn’t without a lot of work though. It took the researchers 55 million photons and ten minutes to create a 1,024 digit random number.

quantum entanglement and random number generation for kids

Try it at home!

OK, we can’t bring in the multiple labs spanning most of NIST that include lasers, beam splitters, optical cables, mirrors and more to your dinner table. But we can recreate the experiment through an analogy that you can bring to the table.

Check out our hands-on project that entangles magnets to generate a binary sequence which can then be converted to a series of random digits.

Meet the scientist!

All science is done as a group collaboration. The work published on random number generation through the quantum entanglement of two photons was led by Dr. Peter Bierhorst of NIST and University of Colorado.

Learn about how he became a scientist, what he finds most difficult, his next steps and more in our interview!