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Published: 12 October 2011  
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Looking inside the quantum world

An international team of scientists may have found a way to study the elusive quantum behaviour of large 'macroscopic' objects. Presented in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), their sophisticated method will allow researchers to break new ground when performing quantum experiments. The study was funded in part by a European Research Council (ERC) grant, worth EUR 1.6 million, under the EU's Seventh Framework Programme (the lead researcher of this grant is Dr Markus Aspelmeyer from the University of Vienna in Austria (ERC Starting Grant 2009)).

Pulsed quantum optomechanics can directly probe quantum mechanical behaviour, which is seen as the central rippling in this representation of a Schrödinger-cat state (left). Under constant observation, these quantum features are washed out (right).  © CQ/University of Vienna
Pulsed quantum optomechanics can directly probe quantum mechanical behaviour, which is seen as the central rippling in this representation of a Schrödinger-cat state (left). Under constant observation, these quantum features are washed out (right).
©  CQ/University of Vienna

Physicists have long tried to determine how far quantum phenomena extend into our daily lives. In order to do so, the quantum world must be investigated at a completely new scale of mass and size. This is a major challenge because as mass and size increase it is difficult to detect genuine quantum features.

Researchers at the Vienna Center for Quantum Science and Technology (VCQ) at the University of Vienna in have developed an innovative method using flashes of light to observe quantum features of large objects with exceptional resolution. The main idea is based on the fact that quantum objects, unlike classical objects, behave differently when they are being observed.

'In current approaches, objects are constantly monitored and the possible quantum features are being washed out,' says lead author Michael R. Vanner of the Vienna Doctoral Program on Complex Quantum Systems (CoQuS). 'This is in many ways analogous to the blurring of a photograph of a fast moving object. Loosely speaking, the flashes freeze the motion and create a sharp image of the quantum behaviour.'

The new tool will give researchers the ability to 'see' inside the world of quantum physics at a completely new scale of mass and size. The tool is unique in that it could be directly applied to ongoing experiments that try to prepare quantum phenomena in micromechanical resonators (i.e. mechanically vibrating massive objects).

'By analysing the dynamics of such behaviour, pulsed quantum optomechanics provides a path for investigating whether macroscopic mechanical objects can be used in future quantum technologies,' Dr Vanner says. 'It will also help shed light on nature’s apparent division between the quantum and the classical worlds.'

Experts from Imperial College London in the United Kingdom, the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information (IQOQI) in Austria, the Albert-Einstein Institute of the University of Hannover in Germany and the University of Queensland in Australia contributed to this study.


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University of Vienna
European Research Council
PNAS
'Living out Einstein's dreams — French researchers make quantum breakthrough'





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