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Giant Molecule Experiment Confirms Things Can Exist In Two Places At Once

Even as fields of science go, quantum physics is notoriously hard for people to understand.

That's at least partially due to the fact that no matter how complicated other areas of science can become when discussed at high level, they tend to concern phenomena that we can observe in the world.

Quantum physics, on the other hand, often concerns more abstract and theoretical ways of conceptualizing the universe, which requires an entirely different level of thinking.

However, as both our methods and tools for uncovering the mysteries of how the world works get more sophisticated, we can actually find ourselves observing concepts that once seemed purely hypothetical.

And one recent experiment serves as a massive step forward in making that gap easier to bridge.

To understand what exactly the physicists published in the journal Nature Physics on September 23 accomplished, we need to understand something about our world.

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As outlined in Scientific American, every group of particles is a wave. That may not mean much on its face, but it becomes a lot more mind-blowing when we understand that this essentially makes everything in the universe a wave.

That includes us, the planet we're sitting on, the bacteria that live all around us, and it can even include particularly large particles.

What this means is that essentially anything in the world can occupy two spaces at once because that trait is inherent to waves.

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This is a concept known as "quantum superposition" and scientists have been able to show that it's a real thing for decades.

The only problem is that so far, they were only able to demonstrate it with small particles because the larger something is, the smaller their wavelengths are, which makes the waves harder to detect.

Despite this, the physicists involved with the experiment we'll discuss didn't necessarily have to reinvent the wheel to show quantum superposition on a larger scale.

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As Scientific American reported, scientists have shown that light exists as both a particle and a wave since the 1920s by cutting two slits into a sheet and shining light through them.

This created a complex interference pattern and showed that even the individual electrons would show this pattern, despite once being understood as simply particles.

If they were simply particles, they would instead have formed two strips shaped like the slits. However, they kept getting in their own way, suggesting they could occupy multiple spaces at once.

More recently, the international team behind the new experiment decided to take this old concept and scale it up.

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Instead of focusing on individual electrons, thy would instead use larger molecules made of up to 2,000 atoms each.

Since the size of these molecules meant they had less easily-detectable wavelengths, this was no longer as simple as shining a light.

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Instead, they had to build a machine capable of firing a collection of those molecules in the form of a beam (which we'll call the special beam cannon) and aiming it through a series of grates and sheets with similar slits in them.

They had to design the special beam cannon with factors like gravity, the rotation of the earth and the heated conditions they stored molecules in mind to prevent these factors from influencing their data.

Once they were ready, they turned the special beam cannon on and produced a molecule beam measuring about 6.5 feet in length.

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Even with all of these factors in mind, the molecules used still showed similar interference patterns as the electrons in previous experiments.

So even larger molecules managed to get into their own ways and demonstrate that they could occupy multiple spaces at once.

Unfortunately, we still don't have a way to imitate this effect ourselves as shown in this bizarre meme. At least, not in a way that we can actually survive.

h/t: Scientific American