Scientists trying to put one thing in two places at the same time

Those greedy scientists, they just can't learn to share. Instead of going out and getting two little glass spheres, they're trying to use a trick of quantum mechanics to take one little glass sphere and make it exist in two places at the same time.

You're probably generally familiar with quantum superposition: it's the idea that on the quantum level, if something has an equal probability of acting one way and another way, it's actually acting in both ways at the same time until you measure it. This is what enables Schrödinger's cat to be alive and dead at the same time.

The cat was just a thought experiment, though, and while we've observed superposition in things like particles and molecules, nobody's really sure what happens when you try to pull the same trick with a much larger object.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany are trying to get this superposition thing to work with a glass sphere about 40 nanometers in diameter, which is still very small, but compared to something like a photon, it's enormous, qualifying as "macroscopic." By cooling it down, putting it in a small cavity, and then firing a laser at it, the sphere should enter a quantum superposition where it's on both sides of the cavity at the same time, effectively giving you two tiny spheres for the price of one and a huge lab.

It sure seems like just buying a second 40-nanometer wide glass sphere would be much, much easier than going through all of this rigmarole, but getting this to work would be "substantially beyond the current state of the art" in quantum theory, and within the next 20 years, we should see experiments like these scale up in size to the point where objects the size of cats (or people) into an indeterminate quantum state. Sounds like fun!

APS, via New Scientist

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