New experiments from Cornell University physicists are showing that atoms won’t move while you watch, sort of like the “weeping angels” on Doctor Who.
One of the oddest predictions of quantum theory – that a system can’t change while you’re watching it – has been confirmed in an experiment by Cornell physicists. Their work opens the door to a fundamentally new method to control and manipulate the quantum states of atoms and could lead to new kinds of sensors.
The researchers demonstrated that they were able to suppress quantum tunneling merely by observing the atoms. [T]he weird nature of quantum measurements allows, in principle, for a quantum system to be “frozen” by repeated measurements.
There’s a bunch of detailed information on how they did the experiments at the link.
What I’m wondering about is, naturally, how to use this for practical applications. If atoms are doing weird shit behind your back, then “freeze” into position when you observe them, like the weeping angels, or like the toys on Toy Story, you can really only measure their actions by the resulting frozen position. What they do behind your back, you can only guess at, but the interesting fact remains that they ARE doing shifty things when you’re not looking.
If the tree falls in the forest, and there’s nobody around to hear it, does it make a sound? Science says yes, the sound waves are still produced, so technically it does create sound even if no eardrums are in the vicinity. But maybe the tree never fell in the first place. Or maybe the tree is the observer. Or insects, or fungus. It doesn’t have to be human observation.
But, back to the practical application of Schrodinger’s atoms. If something is that unstable, it’s easy to manipulate. That means you can set things into motion, then turn your back to make it happen on its own, pushed by what you did, in the direction you want.
Let’s pretend we’re talking about water instead of atoms. And let’s say that when you look at the water, it’s always ice, but you know that when you turn your back on it, the water is liquid. So, you put a toy boat on top of the ice, and point a fan at the boat. You turn your back, wait a bit, then turn around to see what happened. The boat is now far away from the fan and stuck inside the ice. You try to move the boat, but no, it’s frozen in place. However, it went in the direction you wanted it to go.
This is just what the atoms are doing, and how you can use their instability to your advantage. Think about how everything in the physical world is connected. Even in outer space, debris and radiation are coming in, while gasses and human-created junk and ships are going out. The air you’re breathing right now might have been some of the same molecules that came from inside the earth’s crust a thousand years ago, or that came out of Tut’s tomb, or that used to be part of a dinosaur’s body.
Atoms make up everything in the physical world. If you can push them, shape them, nudge them, you can change the physical world around you. And, as Schrodinger taught, your very presence and thoughts change what those atoms are doing at any given moment.
See where I’m going with this? Focus on what you’re trying to push, set down your boat, then turn your back and walk away. Then tomorrow do it again. And again, and again. Every time you go back to check on it, you’ll see a frozen snapshot, but it will show you if you’re getting closer to your goal, or if you need to adjust your steering. But if you do it too much, or observe it constantly, boat will remain frozen and motionless and never get there.
That’s my theory, anyway. Let me know if this works for you.