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A laser pulse bounced off a rubidium atom and entered the quantum world — taking on the weird physics of "Schrödinger's cat." Then another one did the same thing. Then another.
The laser pulses didn't grow whiskers or paws. But they became like the famous quantum-physics thought experiment Schrödinger's cat in an important way: They were large objects that acted like the simultaneously dead-and-alive creatures of subatomic physics — existing in a limbo between two simultaneous, contradictory states. And the lab in Finland where they were born had no limit on how many they could make. Pulse after pulse turned into a creature of the quantum world. And those "quantum cats," though they existed for only a fraction of a second inside the experimental machine, had the potential to be immortal.
Experiment - Laser - Cat - Detector - Creation
"In our experiment, the [laser cat] was sent to the detector immediately, so it was destroyed right after its creation," said Bastian Hacker, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Germany, who worked on the experiment.
But it didn't have to be that way, Hacker told Live Science.
State - Pulse - Night - Sky - Billions
"An optical state can live forever. So if we had sent the pulse out into the night sky, it could live for billions of years in its [cat-like] state."
That longevity is part of what makes these pulses so useful, he added. A long-lived laser cat can survive long-term travel through an optical fiber, making it a good unit of information for a network of quantum computers.
Quantum - Physics - Conditions - Particle - Traits
Here's how it goes: Quantum physics dictates that, under particular conditions, a particle can have two contradictory traits at the same time. A particle's spin (a quantum measurement that doesn't quite look like the spinning we see at the macro scale) might be "up" while also being "down." Only when its spin is measured does the...
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