Thirteen Facts About Quantum Entanglement

1. Entanglement describes the liminal relationship between two quantum particles that exist in “superposition,” a mix of states that can only be resolved when a physical property is measured. Think of the transporter in Star Trek: When someone is transported to another location they are technically in two places — and two quantum states — at once until their pattern is completed. Scientists have actually transported data using entanglement over 89 miles. Another way to phrase it is: “measuring a property of one particle instantly determines the property of another,” and before that measurement is taken the particle exists in all states at once.

2. Superposition refers to the state in which two quantum objects are comprised of some combination of all the possible states of a system or as Wikipedia explains: “. . . if the world can be in any configuration, any possible arrangement of particles or fields, and if the world could also be in another configuration, then the world can also be in a state which is a superposition of the two, where the amount of each configuration that is in the superposition…” In the blast from the past commercial above, there is a quantum moment where the peanut butter and chocolate are neither peanut butter nor chocolate, but in a superposition of being both at once. Until you eat it. Then it’s just yummy.

3. Spin is what makes subatomic particles like electrons act like tiny bar magnets. Quantum mechanics allow subatomic particles to be in both an up and down position simultaneously.

4. Coherence refers to atomic particles acting in sync with one another, sort of like “a gathering of consummate musicians playing jazz together (“quantum jazz”™) where every single player is freely improvising from moment to moment and yet keeping in tune and in rhythm with the spontaneity of the whole. It is a special kind of wholeness that maximizes both local freedom and global cohesion.”

5. Schroedinger’s cat is a thought experiment devised by Erwin Schroedinger, who also came up with the term “entanglement,” in 1935 to illustrate the conflict between how matter behaves on a micro as opposed to a macro level. In the experiment the cat is put in a box with hydrocyanic acid that may or may not be released, killing the cat. At this point the cat is in a state of superposition — both dead and alive — and the act of observing it dissolves that state and forces the cat into one state or the other.

6. SPIN STATE is a Science Fiction novel by Chris Moriarty about quantum entanglement, Bose-Einstein condensates, and coherence. I profiled the main character of the book, Lt. Catherine Li, as a Danger Gal Friday.

7. Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC) is created when elementary particles called bosons are cooled to temperatures close to absolute zero. In this state quantum effects become observable on a macro level.

8. A spin bath is “a clutch of subatomic particles interacting cleanly enough to reveal quantum fluctuations spreading like ripples on a still pond.”

9. Entangled particles could travel as fast as 10,000 times the speed of light. Which kind of violates all the rules about space and time. Yay!

10. A bit has two possible states: 0 or 1. Picture it as an arrow on a sphere pointing to the north pole (1) or the south pole (0). A qubit is a quantum bit that can exist in any state in between 0 and 1 — and does exist in all of those states simultaneously until its state is measured.

11.Scientists have transmitted “a pair of entangled states of light into separate corners of an ultracold atomic cloud, stored them there briefly, and then sent them back on their separate ways without completely destroying the quantum link in the process.”

12. What’s an atomic cloud look like, you ask? You get one (an image of one) on your iPod with software called Atom in a Box. WANT.

13. An upcoming International Space Station experiment will test the transmission of photons from the Space Station to Earth using quantum entanglement. What do you want to bet the first message transmission will be “The cat is alive?”