Quantum Entanglement: Emerging Tech

 In Science

Quantum Entanglement: An Introduction

The name itself might prompt a familiar headache that you remember from high school physics class. At the mathematical level, it’s definitely beyond the comprehensive of most, but the theory and concept can be understood, and they’re fascinating. The potential applications grab the imagination. Quantum entanglement will definitely be one of the major next steps in technology for humanity.

Some other big names weighed in during the early days of discovery on what’s now known as quantum entanglement, including Einstein, He called the phenomenon “spooky action at a distance.”

Because of the complicated physics terminology used when talking about this topic, it can be intimidating. Sometimes visuals, like the one in this infographic can help.

Two Types of Physics

First it might be helpful to know, there’s two theories of physics: classical and quantum. The two realms aren’t entirely clearly defined. Classical physics is useful to describe atoms and anything bigger than atoms, right up to celestial systems.

But the rules of classical physics break down at the subatomic level. Newton’s laws belong to the realm of classical physics. In addition to very small scales, classical physics does not work well under very high speeds or very strong gravitational fields.

A lot of the work in modern day physics is about connecting the two. How do the quantum physics at the subatomic level give rise to classical physics at large scale?

Early Dismissals

Einstein was actually dismissing quantum entanglement with his quote on spooky action because he was a local realist.

Local Realism

Local realist sounds like a complicated term, but essentially it represents physicists that believe that objects are only influenced by what’s immediately around them, or the “local reality.” As we will see, quantum entanglement flies in the face of this. If a particle is entangled, it should be able to affect its twin even if they’re a galaxy apart. Hardly local!

Faster-than-light

And this leads to a second problem. Nothing should be able to travel faster than light. And yet, test after test seems to suggest the effects of quantum entanglement do. Scientists still have no idea how this would work.

Basics of Quantum Entanglement

For quantum entanglement at its most basic form, imagine we have two photons. Photons are what make up light. If these two photons are linked, AKA entangled, then something interesting happens. No matter how far apart they are, what’s done to one produces an equal reaction in the other. And it happens at least 10,000 times the speed of light! It may even be instantaneous.

If Photon A is in down-spin, Photon B will be in up-spin. It’s like the particles are twins, but in a yin-yang sort of way.

These so-called entangled particles create real problems for physicists. Even though experimentation has repeatedly supported quantum entanglement, the how remains a mystery.

Potential Applications

So while this is certain cool in a mysteries-of-the-universe type way, why would governments and institutions spend money on it? Because quantum entanglement could have some even cooler uses. For one, quantum communication.

Imagine being able to communicate truly instantly without any sort of wires or cables. And imagine that such transmissions were unable to be hacked. Because merely interacting with one particle would affect its twin, you couldn’t spy. This makes it the gold standard of security.  If the Chinese are able to beam particles to the Micius satellite, they could begin sending info back and forth.

Experiments

The Micius Satellite

For a long time, scientists had conducted fairly limited tests. A new study led by Chinese physicist Jian-Wei Pan produced the result in space. They produced entangled photons on a satellite that was in Earth’s orbit, about 300 miles up. The satellite, Micius, fired a powerful laser through a crystal. Micius is named after an ancient Chinese philosopher and is part of a $100 million program called Quantum Experiments at Space Scale.

They then beamed the particles to two labs on the ground that were 750 miles apart. The two particles remained entangled. It was the greatest distance yet tested.

Part of the reason for ground distances being limited compared to space tests is that space is a vacuum. That means there’s nothing to interfere with the particles being sent.

Think about yelling to a friend across a city block in the middle of the day. Now think about yelling for a friend across a quiet country field at night. You can be heard more clearly, over a greater distance in the second scenario. The same applies. Just as other sounds interfere with your voice, other particles interfere with a quantum transmission.

International Space Station

The International Space Station plays a key role as well.  If you read my SpaceX article last week, you might be beginning to get an appreciation for just how important the ISS is. As detailed, it may continue to play an important role. The University of Illinois is developing a device that could test hyperentanglement, or entanglement in multiple ways, on the ISS.

Quantum Communicating

A team at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light in Germany are also developing quantum communication protocols that could be used with existing laser systems aboard current satellites. The team has successfully encoded and transmitted simple quantum states to the ground from satellites in geostationary orbit.

Tougher Than They Seem

Quantum entanglement has also held firm even when accelerated to 30g, or 30 times the acceleration of Earth.

Quantum Entanglement

Quantum Entanglement Remains a Mystery

Even though scientists are now begin to experiment with how they might use quantum entanglement, they still don’t know how it works. How can two entangled particles interact over great distance? How can they do so in so little time? Quantum entanglement could provide answers about the nature of space-time. But even before it does, we may begin using the technology.

Einstein claimed hidden variables were at play, but in 1964 physicist John Bell came up with a test. Bell’s test set a statistical limit on how much a hidden variable could affect the behavior. If the limit was exceeded, Einstein’s claim was wrong. Since then, the test has been conducted many times. Entangled particles always exceed Bell’s test.

But How Does Quantum Entanglement Work?

Particles are either independent or entangled. The difference is where information about one improves our knowledge of information on the other. So imagine a particle that can be either red or blue. If knowing that the first particle is red tells you nothing about the second, they’re independent. But if knowing the first particle is red tells you that the second must be blue, they’re entangled.

Schrodinger’s Cat

From here, quantum entanglement gets a lot more complicated. But having a cat can help. Not just any cat though. Schrodinger’s cat.

You probably have heard of Schrodinger’s cat. It’s become a piece of common knowledge and even shows up in pop culture, like in Rick & Morty. Basically, Schrodinger used the analogy to help explain what it meant to observe particles. Schrodinger’s cat is in a box, and you can’t be sure it’s alive or dead until you open the box. But the observation itself, the opening or the box, assigns the cat a state: dead or alive. Your observation has affected the reality.

It can be a little hard to wrap your mind around, but it’s important here. Let’s just accept Schrodinger was right for a second. And let’s combine our two examples. A cat can be dead or alive, and it can be red or blue.

You get to observe the cat, but you can only use one of your senses. So you can put your ear to the box and listen for sounds that cat is alive, or you can peer into the box and see if its red or blue, but not both at once.

If you listen to box 1 and look in box 2, you don’t get any useful information. However if you listen to box 1 and you listen to box 2, the two results will be the same. Even if one of those boxes  is on the moon. Or on Pluto.

Getting Entangled: A Love Story

Something to note, as far as modern science has proven, to become entangled, two particles need to first undergo one of several processes in close proximity. That means that particles can’t become entangled from far away, even though they can remain entangled at great distances.

Quantum Entanglement & The Future

Like most of the articles under science on this blog, the most interesting part is what’s yet to come. As the science of quantum mechanics advances, so too will our abilities. One day, we may be able to communicate instantly across great distances. Maybe the first voyagers of SpaceX will call back to earth, using quantum entanglement. For now we wait and see.

Matt Cameron

About Matt Cameron

Hard-working, dedicated, and passionate are three traits that describe me. I've spent my entire life learning the skills that I need to be able to be a successful entrepreneur. Whether I'm doing work for my companies, or writing content for my blogs, I'm always giving it my best effort.

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