Skip to comments.Physicists Put the Quantum Into Mechanics
Posted on 06/08/2009 7:43:15 PM PDT by neverdem
Spooky connection. Physicists forged a quantum link called entanglement between the mechanical oscillations of one pair of ions and another distant pair.
Credit: John Jost and Jason Amini/NIST
Quantum mechanics and its bizarre rules explain the structure of atoms, the formation of chemical bonds, and the switching of transistors in microchips. Oddly, though, in spite of the theory's name, physicists have never made an actual machine whose motion captures the quirkiness of quantum mechanics. Now a group from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Boulder, Colorado, has taken a step in that direction by forging a mind-bending quantum connection between two mechanical widgets. Their devices don't look like electric drills or other familiar machines, however: Each is a pair of ions oscillating in an electric field, like two marbles joined by a spring.
The link the researchers created is called entanglement, and it has been made before between certain internal properties of quantum particles, such as the inner gyrations of ions. The new work extends that link to the actual motion of the ions, which is a kind of micro-analog of the swinging of the pendulum of a grandfather clock. "For the first time, the mechanical motion itself has been entangled," says Rainer Blatt, an experimental physicist at the University of Innsbruck in Austria.
To appreciate what the NIST researchers have done, an aficionado has to get his head around two very weird concepts in quantum mechanics. First, quantum theory says that an object can literally be in two contradictory states at the same time. So whereas an office chair can spin either to the right or to the left, a quantum particle like an ion can literally spin in two opposite directions--call them up and down--at once. That mind-creasing "superposition" state lasts until an experimenter measures the ion's spin, at which point the ion instantly "collapses" to one direction or the other. Weirder still, two ions can be put into these uncertain two-ways-at-once states and then linked up so that, even though it's impossible to say which way either is spinning, their directions are completely correlated. For example, if the first one is measured and collapses into the up state, the second one will instantly collapse into the down state, even if it's light-years away. That connection is called entanglement, and anyone who finds it hard to swallow is in good company: Einstein famously called it "spooky action at a distance."
To extend such a connection to mechanical motion, NIST's John Jost, David Wineland, and colleagues used electric fields to trap two beryllium ions and two magnesium ions. They then applied a magnetic field and pulses of laser light to entangle the spins of the beryllium ions. After that, they separated the ions into two beryllium-magnesium pairs, which would be their mechanical widgets.
During this process, the beryllium spins remained entangled, and the researchers next transferred that link to the motion of the pairs. To do that, they zapped each beryllium with a laser again to "rotate" the down-spinning half of its split personality back to up while leaving the up-spinning half untouched. But they tuned the energy of the laser so that as the down-spinning part of the beryllium's state turned, the light would also excite the ions in the pair to oscillate. As a result, each beryllium ion spun only up, but each beryllium-magnesium pair was left in a state in which it was both oscillating and not-oscillating. Moreover, because the two beryllium spins started out entangled, the two oscillatingnot-oscillating pairs ended up entangled, too, the researchers report this week in Nature.
"It's a completely amazing experiment," says Jack Harris of Yale University, one of a number of physicists striving to show quantum effects in vibrating beams and other "macroscopic" mechanical devices. The ion experiment hasn't beaten their efforts to the punch, he says, because although it entangles mechanical motion, the ions themselves are still quantum particles. "It's more the macroscopic than the mechanical that we're after," Harris says. Indeed, he and others hope to test whether some as-yet-undiscovered principle forbids quantum weirdness in objects containing many billion atoms.
For their part, NIST researchers hope to use ions to fashion a quantum computer that, thanks to quantum weirdness, could solve problems that stymie conventional computers. "A lot of the technologies we developed for this experiment are going to be crucial for making a quantum computer with trapped ions," Jost says. However, making a quantum computer will likely be even harder than making a rudimentary quantum machine.
Guest Sunday, June 07, 2009 Well, so much for 'polite and to the point.' This may be a record even for a discussion board.
Kenneth Epstein Sunday, June 07, 2009Entanglement should not be regarded as spooky action at a distance. It should be regarded as a quantum-style conservation law, in this case conservation of spin angular momentum. I explained this in my article Entanglement Untangled, Physics Essays 19, 299 (2006).
It can occur on microscopic, mesoscopic, macroscopic, and megascopic scales. An example of mesoscopic entanglement is explained by Jorg Wrachtrup in the article Schrodingers Cat is Still Alive, Nature Physics 5, 248 (2009).
On the largest scale, there can be cosmic cats in the form of entangled galaxies in the expanding universe, which is in a quasiclassical state, i.e., a quantum state that allows nondemolition measurements on superpositions and entanglements, which are not disturbed by observation. The universe is the ideal place to observe megascopic quantum effects.
Max Tegmark showed that the brain is in a quasiclassical state. It is quite possible that the brain is a quantum analog computer whose normal modes are the normal modes of the universe, which has a fractal structure consistent with the Biblical statement that God created man in His own image, so that man can be regarded as a fractal of God, explaining how Einstein et al. get those resonance-like flashes of insight into the nature of things.
Kenneth J. Epstein Chicago, Illinois
Diogenes Sunday, June 07, 2009There is no "spooky action at a distance" and there is no "collapse" upon measurement. These are both quantum folklore.
pongosapiens Monday, June 08, 2009I remain fascinated that, as yet, there lacks the appreciation for the 'temporal elephant' in the room, only now be revealed at the quantum level. At some point, we must address 'time' as more than just perception or as an artifact of other, more fundamental factors. We may soon learn that the underlying explanation for "spooky" phenomena at the quantum scale, the reality of matter, as well as the apparent volume we call space may lie in that most troubling concept of Time.
The only important and logical part of the article, and the answer to the puzzle of entanglement.....
“For example, if the first one is measured and collapses into the up state, the second one will instantly collapse into the down state, even if it’s light-years away.”
“through a glass, darkly”
... For example, if the first one is measured and collapses into the up state, the second one will instantly collapse into the down state, even if its light-years away.
How do you know the first one "collapses" at all?
Which would mean a mechanism for FTL digital communication exists. If we ever colonize planets around other stars,FTL communication may mean the difference between a single civilization or a mankind that is fractured into multiple civilizations.
Not just FTL communication, but transfer of technology and other information through time.
Nobody has shown any ability to violate causality to date. That is, nobody has demonstrated any “effect” that happens before a “cause”.
Importantly, this matters with FTL anything. Say one half of an entangled pair was a considerable distance away, say 10 light seconds, from the other half. As of yet, there is no indication that “information” can be passed between the two faster than in 10 seconds. This doesn’t say that it can’t, just that nobody has been able to demonstrate it yet.
Of *course* my math skills are too rusty to investigate this on my own. What do I look like, competent? :-)
Which is one of the reasons Einstein called it "Spooky". The "communications" happen "instantaneously", IOW, faster than the speed of light.
Understanding this on a deeper level might have all sorts of "interesting" consequences and applications.
So you are saying that so far, the reaction has not been measured? No faster than the speed of light? At the speed of light?
Not measureable, as of yet, either way, just "quick", like instantaneous, or --- nearly so ...?
Just what is that you are saying?
I’ve always thought the two entangled, separated particles are adjacent in some higher dimension, or even occupy the same space in the higher dim, making speed of light constraints moot. But I don’t have the quantitative IQ to even start on a mathematical exploration of the concept.
"...But then, when the perfect has come, face to face...."
There have been some experiments that show quantum effects up to the speed of light, but nobody has yet found any indication that spooky action at a distance could exceed light speed. There are many experiments that examine the phenomenon, but none of them so far have broken the iron barrier of causality.
Leave assumptions (along with any pistola's you might be carrying) at the door, please...
Yes: “Then Face to Face”.
Niether do I. And I'm better than the average bear at such higher math, and have an MS in Electronics Engineering. This is not easy stuff!.
It would help if one could get the mathematical physicists to speak English, now and again. At work we had an ABD (All but dissertation) from one of the big name schools. He didn't seem any brighter than most of the folks, but boy could speak quantum entanglement. Of course no one, save one or two other physicists from other divisions, could understand him.