Well they did it again. They broke reality. Honestly, I’m starting to get pretty numb to the litany of stories lately about how physicists keep breaking the universe. Which just shows how ridiculous things things are getting. A few years ago, when knowledgeable people talked about quantum weirdness there was always a caveat that sounded something like this: “it sounds like it’s absolutely reality breaking, but that’s just because of the limitations of the layman’s description.” Fair enough, fair enough. Cut to today and you’ve got scientists literally making heavy molecules exist in two places at once. It’s all gone silly.
The new experiment is an extension of the famous “double slit experiment” which proved the concept of “quantum superposition.” The experiment showed that photons can be both waves and particles and can exist in two places simultaneously while unobserved. In the past, scientists have performed the double slit experiment with electrons, bigger particles, and very small atoms. Now, however, they’ve managed to prove that heavy molecules, made of up to 2,000 atoms, are also simultaneously waves and particles and can also exist in two places at once. The results of the new experiment were published in Nature Physics.
The double slit experiment involves shooting photons at a screen with two slits in it and seeing what shows up on the other side. If photons were simply particles, one band of light would appear on the other side. But that’s not what happens. the end of the double slit experiment shows multiple lines, an interference pattern created by the photons’ quantum superposition. Until the photons are directly observed, they are both waves and particles and exist in multiple places at once.
The new experiment used heavy molecules shot through the same type of double slit screen and found that they too produce interference patterns consistent with quantum superposition.
The molecules used were called “oligo-tetraphenylporphyrins enriched with fluoroalkylsulfanyl chains” which is simply ridiculous. They’re made of 2,000 atoms and are about 25,000 times heavier than hydrogen atoms, the lightest element in existence. As molecules get bigger, they also become less stable, and scientists were only able to detect quantum interference with these big boys for about seven milliseconds. Which is still really impressive. Physicist Yaakov Fein from the University of Vienna in Austria says:
“Our experiments show that quantum mechanics, with all its weirdness, is also amazingly robust, and I’m optimistic that future experiments will test it on an even more massive scale.”
It’s a weird world. Quantum weirdness used to be considered impossible on a scale this big. It was assumed that only subatomic particles could exhibit this type of behavior. After all, if actual molecules could exist in quantum superpositions, what does it mean for the solid reality we see all around us? Well, I don’t know, but it’s probably weirder than we think.