'Spooky' quantum movements seen happening to large objects, scientists say

'What’s special about this experiment is we’ve seen quantum effects on something as large as a human'

Andrew Griffin
Wednesday 01 July 2020 15:26
Comments
'Spooky' quantum movements seen happening to large objects, scientists say

Scientists have seen "spooky" quantum behaviour happening to objects at the human scale, according to a new paper.

Researchers have seen quantum fluctuations "kick" large objects such as mirrors, moving them by a tiny degree but one big enough to measure.

Such behaviour has previously been predicted by quantum physicists. But it has never before been measured.

The movements are the result of the way the universe is structured, when seen at the level of quantum mechanics: researchers describe it as a "noisy" space, where particles are constantly switching in and out of existence, which creates a low-level fuzz at all times.

Normally, that background of quantum "noise" is too subtle to detect in objects that are visible at the human-scale. But the new research shows that scientists have finally detected those movements, using new technology to watch for those fluctuations.

Researchers at the MIT LIGO Laboratory saw that the those fluctuations could move an object as big as a 40-kilogram mirror. The movement pushed the large mirrors a tiny amount, as predicted theoretically, allowing it to be measured by scientists.

The researchers were able to use special equipment called a quantum squeezer that allowed them to "manipulate" the noise so that it could be better observed.

"What's special about this experiment is we've seen quantum effects on something as large as a human," said Nergis Mavalvala, the Marble Professor and associate head of the physics department at MIT, in a statement.

"We too, every nanosecond of our existence, are being kicked around, buffeted by these quantum fluctuations. It's just that the jitter of our existence, our thermal energy, is too large for these quantum vacuum fluctuations to affect our motion measurably. With LIGO's mirrors, we've done all this work to isolate them from thermally driven motion and other forces, so that they are now still enough to be kicked around by quantum fluctuations and this spooky popcorn of the universe."

To see the changes, researchers used the LIGO equipment that was built to detect gravitational wave. To do so, researchers built two pieces of equipment in different parts of the US that sends light down long tunnels, where it bounces off a mirror, and then is reflected back to where it started – the mirrors at the two facilities should return to the same spot at the same time, unless a gravitational wave disrupts their journey.

In the new experiment, researchers used the very precise measurements of those mirrors and the unusual conditions of the LIGO detector to measure any possible quantum "kick", instead. They did so for watching for quantum fluctuations within the equipment, and watched for movement in the mirrors.

“This quantum fluctuation in the laser light can cause a radiation pressure that can actually kick an object,” said Lee McCuller, a research scientist at MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. “The object in our case is a 40-kilogram mirror, which is a billion times heavier than the nanoscale objects that other groups have measured this quantum effect in.”

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in