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Quantum Quirk Allows Atoms To Exist In Two Places At Once

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The laws of physics state one object can't be in two places at the same time. A breakthrough study from Stanford University researchers used a quantum quirk that enabled a "cloud" of atoms to be in two places at once. The research highlighted the possibility of "recreating" tangible objects over vast distances using teleportation.

The study was led by Stanford physicist Dr. Mark Kasevich. The team demonstrated how to make two rubidium atoms clouds into a "superposition" or quantum state, which is a translation or description of a physical system.The research was published in the Nature journal on Dec. 23.

Quantum states often happen in subatomic particles which enables them to exist in dual spin states at a single time: up and down. At the atomic scale, Kasevich and his colleagues proved it is possible to generate a superposition across distances by as much as 21 inches (54 centimeters).

The Experiment

The team enrolled a technique called the light pulse atom interferometry, which helps scientists detect atoms using laser patterns. They created a cloud called the Bose-Einstein condensate, which is made up of 10,000 rubidium atoms and with a diameter of a few millimeters. Using the lasers, they shot the cloud up a 10-meter (32 feet) high chamber.

Upon reaching the chamber's top, the cloud created two states for several seconds before falling down. The two states registered 21 inches (54 centimeters) apart from each other. The superposition lasted for one second before the lasers turned them back into just one.

The team analyzed the time it took for the two states to reach the bottom of the chamber. They found that the atoms appear to fall from two heights with a difference of half a meter.

"These results push quantum superposition into a new macroscopic regime, demonstrating that quantum superposition remains possible at the distances and timescales of everyday life," said the researchers.

The Application

Quantum superpositions can revolution the way people transmit information. For example, present computers make use of the conventional computer bits or binary 1 or 0. When computer scientists succeed in developing quantum computers, a quantum bit or qubit can be in three states at a single time, which enables machines to compute multifaceted calculations.

Putting the calculations in perspective, let's take a look at a popular game. To play "Angry Birds," a gadget needs 40,000 conventional computer bits to run the game. A super computer powered by only 1,000 qubits can crack encryption keys easily.

Exploiting the quirks of quantum physics makes teleportation possible. Quantum states existing in two places at a single time is called an "entanglement." This quirk could make it possible to send data, a tangible object or a person across miles without a physical link.

Photo: Eoin Gardiner | Flickr

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