1. A team of physicists from Stanford University have set the quantum record for an object being in two places at once, demonstrating the effect at a distance of over half a metre. Their paper confirming the findings was just published in Nature along with a detailed editorial explaining their experiment.
2. According to the quantum superposition principle, an object can exist in two quantum states at the same time until it is directly observed, causing its wave function to collapse into one state or the other;
3. Until recently, the record for such superposition was under a centimetre distance, for about a quarter of a second.
4. The new results out of Stanford smash this record, and show for the first time that superposition works on macro, ie, human scales.
5. Using a new process the team came up with, researchers achieved superposition for about a second, at a remarkable distance of 54 centimetres apart, ie, more than half a metre, thereby obliterating the old record by more than 50 times.
6. “Our work really is definitive for large separations. Nobody else has done that.” - Team member Mark Kasevich.
7. The experiment involved cooling a vacuum sealed chamber to absolute zero and minutely fine tuning it to take into account the Earth’s rotation. The team created what’s called a Bose Einstein condensate (BEC), which is a ball of rubidium atoms all in the same quantum state. Using lasers, they shot this bundle of 10,000+ atoms up the 10 meter high chamber and gradually split the atoms into two separate states.
8. At the top of the chamber, the BEC’s wave function is split into an even mixture of two states, about 54 centimetres apart. It achieves superposition for about a second then falls back down. As the BEC falls back down, the lasers guide the two states back into one. Observations show that the atoms fall from different heights, confirming that the BEC was in two separate states (superposition) at the top of the chamber.
9. The results are an important breakthrough in understanding how quantum mechanics (the microscopic universe) transitions to the distances and timescales of everyday life (the macroscopic universe).
10. As scientists figure out how to entangle two particles at ever greater distances apart there are major questions being asked around the world about the size of objects that can be entangled. Schrödinger’s cat has come up in several such discussions as theorists and those in the applied fields seek to figure out if it might be truly possible to cause a whole cat to actually be in two places at once!
This latest study firmly suggests that quantum phenomena, such as superposition, remain possible in everyday realms. We can only hope that the breakthroughs continue at a swift pace, and within a few holiday seasons – wouldn’t it be helpful – if we can all be in two places at once and collapse into one place or another depending on where we need to be?
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