The elusive quantum mechanical phenomenon of entanglement has now been made a reality in objects almost macroscopic in size.
Perhaps the strangest prediction of quantum theory is entanglement, a phenomenon whereby two distant objects become intertwined in a manner that defies both classical physics and a “common-sense” understanding of reality. In 1935, Albert Einstein expressed his concern over this concept, referring to it as “spooky action at a distance.”
Nowadays, entanglement is considered a cornerstone of quantum mechanics, and it is the key resource for a host of potentially transformative quantum technologies. Entanglement is, however, extremely fragile, and it has previously been observed only in microscopic systems such as light or atoms, and recently in superconducting electric circuits.
In work recently published in Nature, a team led by Prof. Mika Sillanpää at Aalto University in Finland has shown that entanglement of massive objects can be generated and detected.
The researchers managed to bring the motions of two individual vibrating drumheads—fabricated from metallic aluminum on a silicon chip—into an entangled quantum state. The objects in the experiment are truly massive and macroscopic compared to the atomic scale: the circular drumheads have a diameter similar to the width of a thin human hair.
The team also included scientists from the University of New South Wales Canberra in Australia, the University of Chicago, and the University of Jyväskylä in Finland. The approach taken in the experiment was based on a theoretical innovation developed by Dr. Matt Woolley at UNSW and Prof. Aashish Clerk, now at the University of Chicago.
“The vibrating bodies are made to interact via a superconducting microwave circuit. The electromagnetic fields in the circuit are used to absorb all thermal disturbances and to leave behind only the quantum mechanical vibrations,” says Mika Sillanpää, describing the experimental setup.
Eliminating all forms of noise is crucial for the experiments, which is why they have to be conducted at extremely low temperatures near absolute zero, at -273° C. Remarkably, the experimental approach allows the unusual state of entanglement to persist for long periods of time, in this case up to half an hour.
“These measurements are challenging but extremely fascinating. In the future, we will attempt to teleport the mechanical vibrations. In quantum teleportation, properties of physical bodies can be transmitted across arbitrary distances using the channel of ‘spooky action at a distance,’ ” explains Dr. Caspar Ockeloen-Korppi, the lead author on the work, who also performed the measurements.
The results demonstrate that it is now possible to have control over large mechanical objects in which exotic quantum states can be generated and stabilized. Not only does this achievement open doors for new kinds of quantum technologies and sensors, it can also enable studies of fundamental physics in, for example, the poorly understood interplay of gravity and quantum mechanics.
April 25, 2018. Aalto University.
Humans Will Actually React Well to News of Alien Life
Hollywood has it wrong. Humans would actually react positively to news of alien life—intelligent or microbial.
As humans reach out technologically to see if there are other life forms in the universe, one important question needs to be answered: When we make contact, how are we going to handle it? Will we feel threatened and react in horror? Will we embrace it? Will we even understand it? Or, will we shrug it off as another thing we have to deal with in our increasingly fast-paced world?
“If we came face to face with life outside of Earth, we would actually be pretty upbeat about it,” said Arizona State University Assistant Professor of Psychology Michael Varnum. “So far, there’s been a lot of speculation about how we might respond to this kind of news, but until now, almost no systematic empirical research.”
Varnum presented his findings Feb. 16, 2018, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Austin, Texas.
In a pilot study, Varnum and his colleagues analyzed language in newspaper articles about past potential extraterrestrial life discoveries. Through the work, Varnum aimed to address the nature of reactions to extraterrestrial life by analyzing reactions using a software program that quantifies emotions, feelings, drives, and other psychological states in written texts.
The articles in the pilot study focused on the 1996 discovery of possibly fossilized extraterrestrial Martian microbes; the 2015 discovery of periodic dimming around Tabby’s Star, thought to indicate the presence of an artificially constructed “Dyson sphere;” and the 2017, discovery of Earth-like exoplanets in the habitable zone of a star. The pilot study found that language in the coverage of these events showed significantly more positive than negative emotions.
In a separate study, the team asked more than 500 different participants to write about their own hypothetical reactions and humanity’s hypothetical reaction to an announcement that extraterrestrial microbial life had been discovered. Participants’ responses also showed significantly more positive than negative emotions, both when contemplating their own reactions and those of humanity as a whole.
“I would have some excitement about the news,” one participant said. “”It would be exciting even if it was a primitive form.”
In another study, Varnum’s group presented an additional sample of more than 500 people with past news coverage of scientific discoveries and asked them to write about their reactions. The participants were divided into two groups. In one group, participants read a past article from The New York Times describing possible evidence of ancient microbial life on a Mars meteorite. The second group of participants read an article from the Times describing the claimed creation of synthetic human made life created in the lab. Here, too, the team found evidence of significantly more positive than negative emotions in responses to the claimed discovery of extraterrestrial life, and this effect was stronger in response to reading about extraterrestrial life than human-made synthetic life.
“This discovery shows that other planets have the ability to have life on them,” a participant said. “It’s a very interesting and exciting finding that could be only the beginning.”
In unpublished results presented at the conference, Varnum analyzed recent media coverage of the possibility that the interstellar Oumuamua asteroid might actually be a spaceship. Here, too, he found evidence of more positive than negative emotions, suggesting that we may also react positively to the news of the discovery of evidence of intelligent life from elsewhere in the universe.
Varnum said the studies show that “taken together, this suggests if we find out we’re not alone, we’ll take the news rather well.”
Do Ancient Bones Mean that Santa Was Real?
New Oxford University research has revealed that bones long venerated as relics of the saint, do in fact date from the right historical period.
One of the most revered Christian saints, St. Nicholas’ remains are held in the Basilica di San Nicola, Bari, Southern Puglia, since 1087, where they are buried in a crypt beneath a marble altar, with others preserved in the Chiesa di San Nicolo al Lido in Venice.
Using a micro-sample of bone fragment, Professor Tom Higham and Dr. Georges Kazan, the Directors of the Oxford Relics Cluster at Keble College’s Advanced Studies Center, have for the first time, tested one of these bones. The radiocarbon dating results pinpoint the relic’s age to the fourth century AD—the time that some historians allege that St. Nicholas died (around AD 343). The results suggest that the bones could in principle be authentic and belong to the saint.
Professor Higham said, “Many relics that we study turn out to date to a period somewhat later than the historic attestation would suggest. This bone fragment, in contrast, suggests that we could possibly be looking at remains from St. Nicholas himself.”
St. Nicholas is thought to have lived in Myra, Asia Minor, which is now modern-day Turkey. According to legend he was widely known for his generosity, a trait that inspired the legend of Father Christmas as a bringer of gifts on Christmas Day.
Believed to have been persecuted by the Emperor Diocletian, the saint died in Myra, where his remains became a focus of Christian devotion. His relics were carried away by a group of Italian sailors and transported to Bari, where the bulk of them sit to this day in the Basilica di San Nicola.
The bone analyzed is owned by Father Dennis O’Neill, of St. Martha of Bethany Church, Shrine of All Saints, in Morton Grove Illinois, USA. The relic originally came from Lyon in France. Fr. O’Neill has acquired his collection over many years, mainly from churches and private owners in Europe, and includes a relatively large bone fragment, which has been identified as part of a human pelvis, believed to be a relic of St. Nicholas.
Interestingly, the Bari collection does not include the saint’s full pelvis, only the left ilium (from the upper part of the bone). Since Fr. O’Neill’s relic is from the left pubis (the lower part of the bone), this suggests that both bone fragments could be from the same person. This fact attracted Dr. Kazan’s attention, prompting the study.
Dr. Kazan said: “These results encourage us to now turn to the Bari and Venice relics to attempt to show that the bone remains are from the same individual. We can do this using ancient palaeogenomics, or DNA testing. It is exciting to think that these relics, which date from such an ancient time, could in fact be genuine.”
The relics held in Venice consist of as many as 500 bone fragments, which an anatomical study concluded were complementary to the Bari collection, suggesting that both sets of relics could originate from the same individual. It remains to be confirmed what fragments of the pelvis are contained amongst the Venice relics, if any.
The archaeologists’ work has revealed that the bone has been venerated for almost 1700 years, making it one of the oldest relics that the Oxford team has ever analyzed.
As radiocarbon dating technology has become more sophisticated in recent years, ancient relics have become more accessible in ways that previously would have been considered too invasive to study. Dr. Kazan added that, “Where once we needed physical portions of a bone sample, we can now test milligram-sized micro-samples—opening up a new world of archaeological study.”
In the sixteenth century, stories about St. Nicholas became popular, and the legend of Father Christmas was born. December 6 is known and celebrated in several European countries —particularly Holland, as St. Nicholas Feast Day. On the eve of the feast, children leave out clogs and shoes to be filled with presents.
Of the possible authenticity of the relic itself, Professor Higham concludes: “Science is not able to definitely prove that it is, it can only prove that it is not, however.”
CAPTIONS: Illustration of the 15-micrometer-wide drumheads on silicon chips. The drumheads vibrate at ultrasound frequency. The peculiar quantum state predicted by Einstein was created from the vibrations. (Picture: Aalto University/Petja Hyttinen & Olli Hanhirova, ARKH Architects)
1996 NASA photo of possible microbes in a Mars meteorite.
Greek mosaic of Saint Nicholas, Grgeteg monastery.