Can something be in two places at once? Can something be in two separate states at once? According to Einstein and the weird Twilight Zone rules of the quantum world the answer has always been a definite maybe.
The math supported the concept and scientific study of the quanta relies upon it being true.
Now, two scientists have proved it in what's being hailed by the journal Science as the scientific breakthrough of the year. Although a laudable sentiment, that praise might just be a bit of an understatement because what physicists Andrew Cleland and John Martinis from the University of California at Santa Barbara achieved is possibly the foundation for the technological applications of quantum theory-a veritable quantum revolution.
The two scientists created a machine made of a tiny sliver of paddle-shaped metal fashioned from semiconductor material. The paddle was so small it was just barely discernible. Next, they turned down the temperature until the minuscule paddle got cold—very, very cold—stopping at just above absolute zero. Nothing can be colder than absolute zero. At that temperature all motion stops—even atoms and the atomic particles that make them up.
Needless to say, no one has ever achieved absolute zero [−459.67°Fahrenheit], but today's science can get pretty close.
Anything that achieves absolute zero continues to have quantum mechanical zero-point energy. That energy is known as its "ground state" and it cannot be destroyed or discharged for matter's thermal energy simply vanishes.
After getting as close to absolute zero as possible, Cleland and Martinis raised the paddle's energy by a "single quantum." Raising the state of energy took vibration—at an incredible rate of 6 billion times per second. That generated a measurable electrical current.
Most remarkable of all—they were able to make the paddle vibrate in two different energy states simultaneously. The paddle acted like two different paddles: one vibrated a little, the other at a much greater speed.
If humans were entirely quantum, it would be the equivalent of a man staying at home watching TV while he simultaneously strolled the neighborhood's supermarket aisles buying groceries.
The reason why the successful quantum machine may qualify as the most important breakthrough of the 21st Century—or at least strongly in the running—is that it throws open the door to a whole new technology based on quantum physics instead of classical physics. The last time such a door was opened Einstein's equations led to the splitting of the atom and nuclear energy.
This achievement paves the way towards quantum computers that will run circles around today's processors and hold the promise of revolutionary advancements in medicine, cosmology, computer science, artificial intelligence, Star Trek type technologies such as warp drive and matter transmitters, not to mention the possibility of breaking the time barrier…also known as time travel.
Quantum worlds might be built, and the human race may finally gain mastery over all forms of matter and energy including light and gravity waves. It even holds the capability of someday manipulation the nature of reality to suit planetary needs making it perfect for space exploration and colonization.
If those potential benefits aren't enough, quantum machines and quantum technology also makes possible computer systems that are inviolable: secure from break-ins by hackers.
Remarking on the stunning breakthrough achieved by the two Santa Barbara scientists, Adrian Cho, a writer for Science said, "Quantum theory dictates that a very tiny thing can absorb energy only in discrete amounts, can never sit perfectly still, and can literally be in two places at once."
The next step is making the quanta produce two objects at once: the tiny paddle will be in one laboratory and at the same time in another lab across campus. Impossible? Cho thinks not.
"Physicists still haven't achieved a two-places-at-once state with a tiny object like this one," he said. "But now that they have reached this simplest state of quantum motion, it seems a whole lot more obtainable."