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Physicists discover how fundamental particles lose track of quantum mechanical properties
Date:3/13/2008

(New Orleans, La.) In todays Science Express, the advance online publication of the journal Science, researchers report a series of experiments that mark an important step toward understanding a longstanding fundamental physics problem of quantum mechanics. The scientists presented their findings at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society here this week.

The problem the physicists addressed is how a fundamental particle in matter loses track of its quantum mechanical properties through interactions with its environment.

The research was performed by scientists at the California NanoSystems Institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara and the U. S. Department of Energy Ames Laboratory in Iowa.

At the quantum level things like particles or light waves behave in ways very different from what scientists expect in a human-scale world. In the quantum world, for example, an electron can exist in two places at the same time, what is called a "superposition" of states, or spin up and down at the same time.

Quantum mechanics in computing could lead to communication with no possible eavesdropping, lightning-fast database searches, and code-cracking ability.

The answer to the problem the researchers have tackled is key to unraveling how the classical world in which we live emerges from all the interacting quantum particles in matter. This scientific query surrounds the basic quantum dynamics of a single particle spin coupled to a collection, or bath, of random spins. This scenario describes the underlying behavior of a broad class of materials around us, ranging from quantum spin tunneling in magnetic molecules to nuclear magnetic resonance in semiconductors.

We were stunned by these unexpected experimental results, and extremely excited by the ability to control and monitor single quantum states, especially at room temperature, said author David Awschalom, a professor of physics at UC Santa Barbara. Awschalom is
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Contact: Gail Gallessich
gail.g@ia.ucsb.edu
805-893-7220
University of California - Santa Barbara
Source:Eurekalert

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