Testing Schrödinger's Cat

In 1935, physicist Erwin Schrödinger proposed a thought experiment which suggested that an unobserved cat under perilious conditions was simultanteously dead and alive. Now scientists at the Max Plank Institute for Quantum Physics in Garching, Germany hope to place a virus into two quantum states as a test of that thought experiment:

The team hope to trap a virus in a vacuum using an electromagnetic field created by a laser. Then, with another laser, the team would slow down the virus's movement until it sits motionless in its lowest possible energy state.

Once the virus is fixed, the team will use a single photon to put the virus into a quantum superposition of two states, where it is either moving or not. Until it is measured, the virus should exist in a superposition of motion and stillness.

The team suggest that tobacco mosaic virus, a rod-shaped plant virus measuring about 50 nanometres wide and almost 1 micrometre long, would be an ideal candidate for the experiment. While there is still debate about whether such viruses can really be classed as alive, the experiment could even be extended to tiny organisms, the scientists say. Microscopic tardigrades, or water-bears, can survive in the vacuum of space for days, and may be suitable for the same sort of Schrödinger treatment.


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Image: U.S. Department of Energy

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