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Schrodinger’s Cat Just Might Help Build Quantum Computers

Photo from Pixabay

A new study from Yale University has just put the famous Schrödinger’s cat in another box, further pushing this quantum mechanics theory into stranger territories.

Schrödinger’s cat is a well-known thought experiment, sometimes considered as the ultimate paradox, conceived by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935.

It goes like this: a cat sits in a box with a flask of poison and a radioactive source. If a monitor detects a radioactive decay of a subatomic particle, the flask is shattered, releasing the poison that then kills the cat. However, scientists are aware that these particles are capable of being in multiple states at once, so they can be both decaying and not decaying at the same time. This means the poison could be both released and not released, and the cat may be simultaneously dead and alive.

This illustration was Schrödinger’s way of criticizing the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics that was applied to everyday objects. The Copenhagen interpretation suggested that particles existed in all states until they were observed, at which point they became one set state. In that case, Schrödinger argues, the cat would be both alive and dead, until the box was opened to check on what really happened.

Now, this study posits that if Schrödinger’s cat can indeed be both alive and dead at the same time, it can also be alive and dead at the same time in two locations at once.

“People are generally very interested in this very absurd picture that was painted by one of the founding fathers of quantum mechanics,” Chen Wang, the lead author of the study, told the Washington Post. It’s complicated enough without adding another study in, and Wang admits this about the cat,

It’s understandable that people don’t understand it. You can’t understand it using common sense. We can’t either.

However, the math shows that this is possible, at least at the microscopic level, and Wang says they are just following the math. Wang and his team combined the Schrödinger paradox with another quantum mechanics tenet: quantum entanglement, which means when two interacting subatomic particles become entangled, any change in one will also change in the other, no matter how much distance is between them. Einstein actually called this “spooky action at a distance.”

The researchers built a small chamber with two aluminum cavities for subatomic particles to play in, then connected them with a superconducting chip made of sapphire. They then used electricity to force the particles in each chamber into a specific state – two states at once, as a matter of fact. And because the chambers were linked, both states could be inflicted at once in two places simultaneously.

Why would Wang and his colleagues embark on this seemingly confusing course? They hope that their research can help advance quantum computing.

Computers are made up of “bits” that can be coded either as zeroes or ones. In theory, a quantum computer that uses the experiment discussed could have bits that code zeroes and ones at the same time. This would amount to faster, more powerful computers for certain processes, as these machines would be able to run many different calculations at the same time.

But since as mentioned, these particles collapse into a single state when observed, there should be a way to correct for errors without actually checking for errors. “It’s well understood that 99 percent of computation or more will be done to correct for errors, rather than computation itself,” Wang says. He and the team hope that these induced states in particles could help correct things.

Study co-author Robert Schoelkopf says, “It turns out ‘cat’ states are a very effective approach to storing quantum information redundantly, for implementation of quantum error correction. Generating a cat in two boxes is the first step towards logical operation between two quantum bits in an error-correctible manner.”

And that is how Schrödinger’s cat suddenly becomes a practical, viable tool instead of an exasperating paradox.

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