Watch out for the Quantum Flu!

I recently came across this delicious article on the Arxiv:

Towards Quantum Superposition of Living Organisms

The authors describe an experimental proposal involving the placement of a macroscopic object such as a virus in a quantum superposition of states. The object would be held in isolation from the environment using an optical tweezer setup by taking advantage of the dielectric properties of the objects to levitate and confine it in the optical cavity.

Because they are not in contact with a substrate, the objects are able to be laser cooled to the (quantum) ground state of their mechanical motion. The objects can then be excited into a resonant quantum state of mechanical motion, and therefore also potentially into a superposition of ground and excited states.

If you are obsessed with the idea of putting macroscopic objects into a superposition of states (as I am), this article is worth a read 🙂

And of course it digs up all those lovely arguments about how macroscopic an organism has to be before it can be considered ‘living’ or ‘self-aware’ etc etc, and once again stomps all over that delightfully metaphysical hallowed ground, whilst physicists run towards their decoherence bunkers in fear.

5 thoughts on “Watch out for the Quantum Flu!

  1. Geordie says:

    Yeah this is an awesome article. I remember discussing something like this in grad school, but the idea we were talking about was firing viruses at double slits to see if we could see interference patterns.

  2. rrtucci says:

    Is the virus going to be at milli kelvin tempertures? If so, then how alive is it? Isn’t finite temperature part of the definition of being alive, since you can’t carry out life processes like reproduction at milli-kelvins.

  3. physicsandcake says:

    Yes, they say in the article that the experiment would be performed in a high vacuum. The cooling is done by laser Doppler cooling so *technically* I guess the object is not in thermal equilibrium therefore you can’t quite define temperature in the usual way (not sure about this, I’ll have to ask my BEC friends down the corridor). But mechanically it’s in the ground state or the first excited state so I guess there’d be no statistical Boltzmann type stuff going on.

    I certainly don’t think I’d define viruses as being ‘alive’ on the sliding scale of ‘how alive is it’. But does something have to be actually undergoing it’s ‘living processes’ to be alive? You could possibly cool a fruit fly down to millikelvin temperatures, do your quantum stuff, put it in a superposition of states or whatever, and then reanimate it…? Would that count?

  4. rrtucci says:

    Oh, but don’t you know. Souls have a finite temperature. If you cool that poor fruit fly to millikelvins, its soul will go out the vent pipe.

  5. rob says:

    forget cats. we are gonna have schroedingers flu!

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