A team of physicists at MIT recently published a stunning research report detailing their successful efforts to use entanglement and “quantum time reversal” to create sensors capable of incredibly deep measurements.
That sounds like a lot of scientific jargon, but the gist of it is that this could potentially lead to a legitimate “dark matter detector,” and that’s something that could revolutionize humanity’s understanding of literally everything.
In front: Physics is a moving target. Because we are like fish in an aquarium, we don’t know where the water we swim in comes from or what lies beyond the blurry images on the edge of our glass horizon.
To try to define our reality, we use the scientific method, human imagination and a lot of math. But in the end, any theory is only as good as its ability to work with complementary theories.
Albert Einstein, for example, spent a lot of time reconciling his theories about gravity with Isaac Newton’s.
In modern times, physicists are continuing Einstein’s work by trying to reconcile his views on classical physics with recent discoveries related to quantum mechanics.
But there is a problem. If we put all the leading theories together, we get an incomplete picture. Either the vast majority of the universe is made up of something we haven’t figured out how to observe or measure, or Einstein was wrong.
That “something” that is missing is called “dark matter” and the theory surrounding it is perhaps the most widely accepted theory of the composition of the universe in modern physics.
Background: The goal of the MIT research is to build a more accurate atomic clock and pave the way for better quantum detection.
According to the teams research paper:
Potential applications include finite bandwidth quantum sensors, and the principle we demonstrate could also advance areas such as quantum technology, quantum measurements, and the search for new physics using optical transition atomic clocks.
But pushing the boundaries of quantum measurement is no easy task. The sensors we’re talking about are designed to measure the tiny vibrations that occur inside of individual atoms.
The more finitely we can measure these vibrations, the more information we can collect about the universe.
According to an MIT press release:
A certain type of atom vibrates at a certain and constant frequency which, if measured correctly, can serve as a very accurate pendulum… But on the scale of a single atom, the laws of quantum mechanics take over, and the atom’s oscillation changes like the face of a coin every time it is flipped.
In essence, it is very difficult to perform quantum measurements because the quantum world does not follow the laws of classical physics.
A little deeper: Imagine flipping a coin and taking a picture of it while it’s still in the air. In the picture, the coin is perfectly horizontal, so you cannot determine whether it is more likely to end up on heads or tails.
In the classical world, you could just wait for the coin to hit the ground. To measure the results, all you have to do is look down. And as long as nothing disturbs the coin, you can take all the time you want.
But the quantum world works a little differently. Imagine tossing the coin in the air and taking the same shot, but before your eyes can register the coin’s movement in the air, it resets itself and you can’t determine where it landed.
And because this is the most ironic area of scientific study, the wacky nature of quantum physics is both the problem and the solution.
Since the coin is experiencing “quantum oscillation” too fast for the scientists to observe closely, they had to figure out a way to buy some time.
Unfortunately, there is a line called the “Default Quantum Limitthat basically says that the tools used by physicists to measure quantum vibrations have so far gotten as good as they can be.
A crazy solution: If you can’t make better measuring instruments, use quantum mechanics to amplify the signal you are measuring.
The MIT researchers used quantum entanglement and quantum time inversion to amplify the signal and allow for more measurements during a given experiment.
According to the press release:
The team used a system of lasers to capture the atoms and then sent a blue-tinted “entangled” light, which forced the atoms to oscillate in a correlated state. They allowed the entangled atoms to evolve forward in time and then exposed them to a small magnetic field, which introduced a small quantum change, slightly shifting the collective oscillations of the atoms.
Such a shift would be impossible to detect with existing measuring instruments. Instead, the team applied time reversal to amplify this quantum signal. To do this, they sent another, red-tinted laser that stimulated the atoms to untangle, as if they were evolving backwards in time.
That basically means the researchers tossed two coins into the air at the same time and used “quantum entanglement” to force them into a paradigm where whatever happens to one of them happens to the other.
The scientists then used a magnetic field to bump the coins so that their spin devolved, essentially reversing time and allowing them to make measurements in two temporal regions. Travel directions.
It’s a bit more complicated than that when it comes to real atoms, but the coin analogy gets the gist.
Neural Mind: This is amazing! The scientists have figured out how to disrupt atoms so that they vibrate hard enough for us to detect. In the wild, the ability to detect this level of disturbance could allow us to “measure” hidden gravitational fields.
And that means that these techniques can legitimately lead to a full detector of dark matter.
In theory, dark matter particles should be ubiquitous throughout the universe. They may bounce off you (or maybe fly through you?) as you read this article.
If scientists can push the limits of quantum detection to the point where they can detect the tiny changes in atomic vibrations that occur when a dark matter particle interacts with an ordinary atom, we can finally confirm Einstein’s theories.