Physicists first saw a "solid" quantum object

Physicists first saw a "solid" quantum object
Physicists first saw a "solid" quantum object

Austrian and American physicists for the first time were able to photograph a "solid" quantum object, a glass nanoparticle, consisting of 100 million atoms at once. This achievement significantly expands the boundaries of the laws of quantum mechanics, reported in the journal Science, citing data from the researchers.

"We know that the laws of quantum physics apply to atoms and molecules, but we do not know how large an object exhibiting quantum properties can be. By catching a nanoparticle and associating it with a photonic crystal, we were able to isolate such a macro-object and studied its quantum properties." reported by Markus Aspelmeyer, professor at the University of Vienna (Austria), and his colleagues.

Scientists have long been interested in why we cannot observe the phenomenon of quantum entanglement - the interconnection of the quantum states of two or more particles of light, atoms or other objects, in which a change in the state of one of them instantly affects the state of others, in the world of those objects that we can see with the naked eye or at least through a microscope.

Scientists today explain why two apples and other visible objects cannot be united by such "strange connections", as Einstein called them, for the reason that they are destroyed as a result of the so-called decoherence. In a similar way, researchers call the consequences of the interactions of objects "entangled" at the quantum level, with atoms, molecules, other clusters of matter and the forces of the environment.

In accordance with this logic, the larger the object, the more and more often it contacts the environment and the faster the quantum bonds that connect it with other particles and bodies disintegrate. This consideration gave rise to discussions about where quantum mechanics begins and ends, whether it affects the behavior of large objects in general, and whether it is possible to find the border between the quantum microcosm and the ordinary macrocosm.

Quantum refrigerator

Aspelmeier and his colleagues have taken a big step towards expanding the boundaries of the quantum world by experimenting with nanoparticles and an optical trap, a set of several lasers and lenses that can hold tiny fragments of matter in a vacuum and cool them to temperatures close to absolute zero.

This property of optical traps, as scientists explain, is extremely important for studying the quantum properties of all forms of matter. This is due to the fact that at such temperatures atoms, molecules and particles cease to move chaotically under the influence of heat and pass into a special state in which only the laws of the quantum world act on them.

This is easy enough to achieve for single atoms and molecules, as well as gaseous clusters of them, but physicists have not been able to cool solid forms of matter to this point before. At the beginning of last year, Aspelmeyer and his team solved this problem by choosing the wavelength of the lasers used to "pump" optical traps, at which the nanoparticle begins to lose energy, scattering their radiation, which leads to its slowing down and cooling.

Having achieved this success, Austrian and American physicists prepared a nanoparticle from pure silica glass, placed it in this device, cooled to a temperature close to absolute zero, and measured its quantum properties. These measurements confirmed that she developed them for several fractions of a microsecond.

So far, as physicists admit, this is not enough for conducting quantum experiments, but in the future, if you reduce the noise level in laser radiation and improve the operation of the trap as a whole, the nanoparticle will remain in a quantum state for about seven microseconds.

According to scientists, this time will be enough to observe how the quantum macro-object "falls" on which the gravitational force acts. This will make it possible to use several such particles to study gravitational waves and reveal the nature of the "relationship" of gravity with the quantum microcosm, which the famous American physicist Richard Feynman proposed to do back in 1957.