Scientists at the Commerce Departments National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have coaxed six atoms into spinning together in two opposite directions at the same time, a so-called Schrödinger "cat" state that obeys the unusual laws of quantum physics. The ambitious choreography could be useful in applications such as quantum computing and cryptography, as well as ultra-sensitive measurement techniques, all of which rely on exquisite control of natures smallest particles.
NIST researchers have succeeded in coaxing six ions into an unusual quantum "cat" state in which their nuclei are collectively spinning clockwise and counterclockwise at the same time.
The experiment, which was unusually challenging even for scientists accustomed to crossing the boundary between the macroscopic and quantum worlds, is described in the Dec. 1 issue of Nature.* NIST scientists entangled six beryllium ions (charged atoms) so that their nuclei were collectively spinning clockwise and counterclockwise at the same time. Entanglement, which Albert Einstein called "spooky action at a distance," occurs when the quantum properties of two or more particles are correlated. The NIST work, along with a paper by Austrian scientists published in the same issue of Nature, breaks new ground for entanglement of multiple particles in the laboratory. The previous record was five entangled photons, the smallest particles of light.
"It is very difficult to control six ions precisely for a long enough time to do an experiment like this," says physicist Dietrich Leibfried, lead author of the NIST paper.
Laura Ost | EurekAlert!
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