Microbe to be in two places at once

The scientists aim to suspend a common microbe in an uncertain state similar to that endured by Schrödinger’s cat, which is portrayed in the Nobel laureate’s famous thought experiment as dead and alive at the same time.

But instead of harnessing the bizarre laws of the quantum world to hold a hapless bacterium in limbo, the uncertainty will centre on the bug’s geographical whereabouts.

“It’s cool to put an organism in two different locations at the same time,” said Tongcang Li of Purdue University in Indiana.

“In many fairy tales, a fairy could be at two different locations or change locations instantly. This will be similar to that. Although it will be a microbe instead of a fairy,” he added. His team is working with Zhang-Qi Yin at the Centre for Quantum Information at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

The rules of quantum mechanics allow for objects to be in a “superposition” of two different states at once. The principle forms the bedrock of hopes to develop powerful quantum computers that can work on several problems simultaneously.

Erwin Schrödinger, one of the founding fathers of quantum theory, proposed his thought experiment in 1935. In it, a cat found itself in a closed box with a small radioactive source, a Geiger counter, a hammer and a small bottle of poison.

Schrödinger explained that if an atom of the radioactive source decayed, the Geiger counter would trigger a device to release the poison. The state of the cat would then be “entangled” with the state of the radioactive material. In due course, the cat would be in a superposition of both alive and dead states.

“No quantum superposition state of an organism has been realised. So we propose … to put a microbe into a superposition of two spatial states … the microbe will be at two different positions at the same time,” Li said.

“It will be the first experiment to put an organism into a quantum superposition state,” he added.

The researchers plan to build on the work of others at the University of Colorado, who showed in 2013 that a tiny, vibrating aluminium membrane could be placed in a superposition of states. – © Guardian News & Media 2015

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