Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Schrodinger's Moggie Gains Some Mass

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature of Science History of Science

Ed Hessler

Schrodinger's cat is a well known cat in the thought life of theoretical physicists. It appears to have a dual existence, i.e., dead and alive and whether it is can only be revealed by observation.

Science News writer Emily Conover (April 26, 2023) reports on an experiment in which "a sliver of a sapphire crystal close to half the mass of an eyelash has been put in a 'cat state'" in which its atoms move in two directions at once ...The sapphire cat is more than 100 trillion times the mass of molecules previously put in cat states."

Yiwen Chu, ETH Zurich, the study co-author is quoted by the author on the importance of this finding. He said "'We've reached a new regime where quantum mechanics apparently does work.'"told the author "

Conover explains the phenomenon. "In a quantum parable dreamt up in the 1930s by physicist Erwin Schrödinger, a cat is trapped in a box and, due to quantum effects, winds up alive and dead at the same time (SN:5/26/16. This paradoxical scenario doesn’t happen in the real world. While quantum particles are capable of existing in two distinct states simultaneously — what’s called a superposition — those effects wash out for cat-sized stuff."

The border is not well understood as explained by Benjamin Sussman, University of Ottawa "who was not involved with the new study. 'It's of really profound interest to see how these quantum systems scale and how they behave.'" Sussman continued with a comment about future research which included scaling up the mass and the "size of the oscillations."  That he said is "'going to be really hard but will be really interesting".

Conover has other important explanations about "cat states," oscillations and their significance and calls our attention to another classic demonstration which had larger spatial separation.  Here is an AP Physics introduction to superposition. Beneath it you will find several other videos that might be of interest.

It is accessible reading and she knows how to write for folks like me: the general public. This material is notoriously difficult.
The research was published in Science (April 20, 2023) where you may read a brief summary, the abstract, and learn about the author affiliations unless you are a member and the abstract. When you link to each of the authors their roles in the research and publication are described.

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