Particle physics experiments

Could experiments in space provide answers to quantum mechanics?

Experts at Queen’s University Belfast are calling for a $ 1 billion investment to pursue space as the next quantum frontier.

20th century science has uncovered mysteries concerning both the very large and the very small. Space exploration has brought mankind to the Moon and created satellites roaring around our Earth. Elsewhere, scientists have discovered the bizarre world of quantum mechanics where microscopic reality operates under new and often unexpected rules.

Now, a group of scientists have published an article in Nature calling for an investment of $ 1 billion to merge these two worlds and begin quantum experiments in space.

The article was written by an international group of researchers who stressed the need for a global effort to understand quantum mechanics. One of their central questions is when does the transition from quantum reality to classical reality take place?

In particular, physicists have tested whether molecules of ever-larger sizes behave like waves, but there are limits to what can be done in the laboratory.

“Responding to the right experimental conditions such as low pressure and temperature, or isolation from outside noise, to the end to be able to test the fundamental principles underlying nature – the holy grail of any quantum physicist – is very demanding, ”explained Dr. Matteo Carlesso, researcher at Queen’s University of Belfast and one of the authors of the article.

“Carrying out the experiments in space would offer an effective and exciting way forward. On board a satellite – free fall, high vacuum, and no ground-related vibrations – would make quantum experiments more robust. It would test those tiny, elusive effects that are so difficult to unveil in the field. “

Currently, oligoporphyrin is the smallest known molecule that exhibits quantum behaviors. Composed of 2,000 atoms, it is thousands of times smaller than a grain of dust. The researchers pointed out that finding larger objects displaying quantum behaviors would have “tantalizing” implications.

“It would mean that scientists, the quantum industry and policymakers would work together to explore a new space frontier. This time, a quantum! ‘

The article clearly explains what needs to happen for quantum experiments in space. This includes cooling, choosing the right detectors, and selecting the right particles for testing.

The authors acknowledge that critics would argue that this is an inappropriate investment of funds amid the climate crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic, but argue that the benefits in terms of knowledge and technology could be substantial in a short time.

They also insist that the scale of the necessary funding will require international efforts to establish the optimal pace for such prosecutions. They cite Europe as a major player in the field, but call on other countries like the United States, Canada, Singapore and Japan to get involved.

Professor Mauro Paternostro, director of the Queen’s School of Mathematics and Physics and other author of the article, concluded: “We have identified the challenges ahead and are now arguing for an international effort.

“It would mean that scientists, the quantum industry and policymakers would work together to explore a new space frontier. This time, a quantum!