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A scientist standing behind a complicated laser experiment

Laser scientists have a high-tech way to select numbers!
Image: ANU

It sounds like a perfect way to make money – scientists from The Australian National University (ANU) are now selling random numbers over the internet! But before you start your own business writing whatever number pops into your head, there’s something special about these numbers.

To sell random numbers, you need to make sure they’re actually random. If you just write numbers off the top of your head, you’ll probably write too many 3s and not enough 5s. Even rolling dice doesn’t give perfectly random numbers. Any small difference in the sides could leave a pattern in the results, and that includes the dots or numbers that tell you what you’ve rolled!

Instead, the team have a high-tech solution. “We use the quantum fluctuations of vacuum to generate random numbers,” explains Professor Ping Koy Lam, the team leader for ANU Quantum Random Numbers.

“Vacuum is a region of space that contains no physical matter,” he continues. “Yet, according to quantum physics, vacuum is not completely devoid of energy.” This energy causes all kinds of strange things to happen. Virtual particles appear and disappear, and there is a constant random noise or interference in electromagnetic signals.

The ANU’s quantum random number generator uses lasers to measure the noise of the optical vacuum – a region of space where there are no photons. And science guarantees that these numbers are truly random. “It is the nature of space itself according to modern quantum physics theory,” says Ping Koy.

If you’d like a free sample, you’re in luck! The ANU Quantum Random Numbers website has tonnes of options, from picking colours to rolling dice. You could even use it to generate a seed for an entire Minecraft world!

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