(Credit: Giovanni Cancemi/Shutterstock)
Topics: Biology, Condensed Matter Physics, Modern Physics, Quantum Mechanics
Note: After presenting my research proposal and acceptance by my committee, I've been taking a well-needed break from blogging. I'll post on and off until the New Year, which isn't too far off. Happy holidays!
In recent years, evidence has emerged that quantum physics seems to play a role in some of life’s fundamental processes. But just how it might do this is something of a mystery.
On the one hand, quantum phenomena are generally so delicate that they can only be observed when all other influences are damped – in other words in carefully controlled systems at temperatures close to absolute zero. By contrast, the conditions for life are generally complex, warm, and damp. Understanding this seemingly contradictory state of affairs is an important goal.
So physicists and biologists are keen to explore the boundaries of these very different regimes—life and quantum mechanics—to better understand where they might overlap.
Now Rainer Dumke at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and colleagues have created an exotic quantum state called entanglement using a superconducting qubit and a microscopic animal called a tardigrade. Along the way, the team has created the most extreme form of suspended animation ever recorded. “The tardigrade itself is shown to be entangled with the remaining subsystems,” they say.
To perform their entanglement experiment, Dumke and co cooled their tardigrade to below 10 millikelvins, almost to absolute zero, while reducing the pressure to a millionth of that in the atmosphere. In these conditions, no chemical reaction can occur so the tardigrade’s metabolism must have entirely halted stopped and the processes of life halted.
“This is to date the most extreme exposure to low temperatures and pressures that a tardigrade has been recorded to survive, clearly demonstrating that the state of cryptobiosis ultimately involves a suspension of all metabolic processes given that all chemical reactions would be prohibited with all its constituent molecules cooled to their ground states,” say the researchers.
In this condition, the tardigrade can be thought of as a purely dielectric element. Indeed, the researchers simulated their experiment by treating the tardigrade as a dielectric cube.
The experimental setup consisted of two superconducting capacitors, which when cooled can exist in a superposition of states called a qubit. They placed the tardigrade between the capacitor plates of one qubit so that it became an integral part of the capacitor. The team was then able to measure the effect of the tardigrade on the qubit’s properties.
How a Tardigrade "Micro Animal" Became Quantum Entangled with Superconducting Qubit, The Physics AriXiv Blog, Discovery Magazine