Quantum mechanics analyze the behavior of the world around us at a super small scale: atoms and even subatomic particles that behave in ways that regular physics can’t explain.
To figure out the tension between the quantum and the classical, scientists are trying to get macroscopic objects to work in a quantum way.
In a recent study, scientists worked with a tiny glass nanosphere, which is 100 nanometers in diameter, roughly a thousand times thinner than a human hair.
For us, that is extremely small, but for quantum mechanics, it is an enormous item made out of nearly ten million atoms.
Pushing a nanosphere like that into the realm of quantum mechanics is a colossal achievement, and it is precisely what physicists just did.
They relied on finely-tuned laser lights, and the nanosphere got suspended in its lowest quantum mechanical state, with a minimal motion where quantum behavior can occur.
Lukas Novotny, a professor of photonics at the ETH Zurich in Switzerland, said:
“This is the first time that such a method has been used to control the quantum state of a macroscopic object in free space.”
To reach the quantum states, movement and energy had to be cut to a minimum.
The researchers experimented with a vacuum container cooled down to -269 degrees Celsius before relying on a feedback system to perform specific tweaks.
Interference patterns provoked by two laser beams, the researchers determined the precise position of the nanosphere within its chamber, and from there, the fine adjustments implied bringing the object’s movement down to zero via electrical fields provoked by two nearby electrodes.
That approach better shields the nanosphere from disturbances, meaning that the object can be observed in isolation after the laser is shut down.