You've probably heard of Schrödinger's cat, a famous thought experiment posited by Erwin Schrödinger that suggested putting a cat in a suspended quantum state where it is simultaneously alive and dead. Schrödinger merely meant it as a thought experiment — he didn't intend to toy with the life of a real, living cat. But now researchers want to test the idea by attempting to put a microbe in two places at once, reports The Guardian.
When Schrödinger first envisioned his experiment, he meant it in jest, believing that it highlighted an absurdity in the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. The Copenhagen interpretation was imagined as one way to try and understand the weird probabilistic nature of the quantum world. It essentially proposes that particles in a state of so-called "quantum superposition" do not get realized as being in one state or the other until they are observed or measured.
Schrödinger therefore proposed putting a cat in a box with a vial of poison that was triggered and released when a radioactive material decayed. Since the radioactive material had only a 50/50 chance of decaying over the course of the experiment, and since (according to the Copenhagen interpretation) the state of the radioactive material was not realized until the box was opened and observed, then the cat ought to be both alive and dead at the same time.
Though it sounds crazy (as Schrödinger intended), many quantum theorists still trust in the real superposition of the cat in the experiment. It really is both alive and dead, they believe. Now physicists have a chance to put it to the test.
Rather than using a cat, the scientists — led by Tongcang Li of Purdue University — plan to use a microbe.
"Although it has attracted enormous interest, no quantum superposition state of an organism has been realized. So we propose a straightforward approach to put a microbe into a superposition of two spatial states, that is, the microbe will be at two different positions at the same time," explained Li.
Previous research by scientists at the University of Colorado has shown how to place a tiny, vibrating aluminum membrane in a state of superposition. So Li and his team intend to duplicate that experiment but add a twist by placing a microbe on the surface of the membrane. This ought to tether the microbe to the suspended state of the membrane, essentially putting it in two places at once.
To take it a step further, the researchers also want to do a secondary experiment that would entangle the position of the microbe with the spin of an electron inside it. Other than twiddle with the hapless existence of the microbe, the experiment could lead to some major technological advancements, such as powerful quantum computers capable of solving multiple problems simultaneously.
For now though, scientists remain giddy at what they might discover. "It is cool to put an organism in two different locations at the same time," declared Li.
"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.