‚Schrödinger’s Bacterium‘ Puts a Biological Spin on Quantum Mechanics


The bacterium, Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) producing a zone of hemolysis when grown on Blood Agar Petri plates. www.biology101.org. Image: Anthony D'Onofrio/Flickr/Flickr
The bacterium, Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) producing a zone of hemolysis when grown on Blood Agar Petri plates.
http://www.biology101.org.
Image: Anthony D’Onofrio/Flickr/Flickr
We’re used to being told that the fundamental oddities of quantum mechanics don’t really pertain to the world we live in. They’re there, of course, but not at the scales we interact with.

By Michael Byrne|MOTHERBOARD

I can safely say that this chair is here and only here and not both here and there and everywhere in-between all at once because the chair is an almost unfathomably vast collection of quantum particles that, together, behave in all of the deterministic ways we’re used to and depend upon.

Nonetheless, physicists have been enthusiastically pushing the boundaries of this classical/quantum boundary. In a paper posted recently to the arXiv pre-print server, a pair of researchers from Purdue University and Tsinghua University have proposed an experiment in which a bacterium, a living object that would seem to be very much so a part of our classical deterministic world, is put into a superposition of states in a real-life version of the Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment. So: a single bacterium simultaneously occupying multiple quantum states.

To be clear, this wouldn’t be a sudden jump from, like, single electrons to creatures each composed of around 1011 atoms. There’s been a steady progression of increasing complexity in superposition experiments: from electrons to protons to atoms to molecules to, finally, tiny mechanical systems. Quantum coherence even seems to serve as a component of photosynthesis functions in some plants, just as a natural way of doing things.

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