Friday, April 29, 2011

Schrodinger's cat - is the paradox gone?

For a long time, Schrödinger's cat has been everyone's favorite example of quantum mechanics. Who doesn't like cats (aside from the people that don't)? It's become an icon for quantum mechanics, but a new proposal for an experiment may expose the cat while he's in the box. This preprint, due to be published in Physical Review A. Remember my post about the quantum drum? If you don't here's a quick summary.

Physicists put a 30 micrometer (human hair is about 100 micrometers thick) long piezoelectric paddle into a quantum superposition state - it was vibrating and not vibrating at the same time. As soon as they measured it though, its wave function collapsed to either of the two states, but some careful measurements showed that it was truly in a superposition state.

Hear is where the story gets interesting. Some physicists aren't satisfied with this, and want to take it a step further! What if we can make a measurement of the drum while it's in a superposition state without causing it to collapse? This is precisely what they are trying to do. Physicists Kurt Jacobs, Justin Finn, and Sai Vinjanampathy propose an experiment with an isolated wire put into a superposition state (vibrating in opposite directions - at the same time). They aren't stopping here, however. They wish to track and control the quantum state without collapsing the wave function. If they can achieve this, this would be revolutionary in quantum theory in general, and more specifically quantum computing. Quantum computing can theoretically achieve computational efficiency and speed leaps about bounds faster than current computers. Unfortunately, this experiment is a few years off, as the team doesn't have sensitive enough equipment.

Where does this leave Schrödinger's cat? Well if this experiment works as hoped, he'll be either dead - or alive - forever.


  1. You mean we could immortal cats running around? Sounds worse than having a parrot as a pet!

  2. Huh. I don't totally understand the significance of this, but I definitely enjoy your enthusiasm here, and you're explaining things cleanly and simply in layperson's terms. What a long way you've come!

  3. I really hope this pans out to something of significance. Quantum computing is going to be the next huge step in computer science and this could give it the boost it truly needs.