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Puting a virus in two overlapping quantum states

Researchers from Germany and Spain are proposing a real experiment to probe whether a virus can exist in a superposition of two quantum states. Such superpositions are typically the domain of smaller, inanimate objects such as atoms. But the team believes that their technique, using finely tuned lasers, will soon allow for the superposition of something much closer to a living organism.

At its most fundamental level, quantum mechanics says that particles can only exist in discrete states. For example, researchers can measure the direction a particle spins as either 'up' or 'down', but nothing in between. Yet, as long as no one is looking, the particle exists in a combination of both states simultaneously, a strange blend known as a superposition.

The team hope to trap a virus in a vacuum using an electromagnetic field created by a laser. Then, with another laser, the team would slow down the virus's movement until it sits motionless in its lowest possible energy state.

Once the virus is fixed, the team will use a single photon to put the virus into a quantum superposition of two states, where it is either moving or not. Until it is measured, the virus should exist in a superposition of motion and stillness.

The team suggest that tobacco mosaic virus, a rod-shaped plant virus measuring about 50 nanometres wide and almost 1 micrometre long, would be an ideal candidate for the experiment.
 
 

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