“Quantum Cheshire Cat” Phenomenon Observed For First Time


Lewis Carroll’s classic story Alice in Wonderland is by far one of the strangest books of all time, especially when you consider its weird characters. One of the strangest characters in the story is the omnipresent Cheshire Cat. With its wide grin and ability to literally pop up everywhere, the Cheshire Cat has to be one of the weirdest literary characters. The only thing that could bypass Alice in Wonderland in the weirdness scale is quantum mechanics. In fact, quantum physics is so weird that they’ve actually resorted to using Alice in Wonderland metaphors; particle physicists have even done one better and created particles modeled after the Cheshire Cat.

According to Nature Communications, a genius team who was led by Tobias Denkmayr, a PhD student at the Vienna University of Technology, announced that something very interesting: they have succeeding in separating properties from the particles that usually possessed them. Much like the Cheshire Cat’s smile that could be seen without the actual cat, there are properties without particles. We are more used to the train of thought that tells us that objects and their properties are always going to be bound together; for example, a ball that rotates will not become separated from its spin. But the quantum theory predicts that a particle (like a neutron) can be physically separated from one of its properties.

As the researchers once put it: “We find the cat in one place, and its grin in another.”

The cat analogy is a definite nod to Schrodinger’s Cat, the thought experiment in which a feline in a box is considered both dead and alive simultaneously, conveying the quantum phenomenon, superposition.

Photo Source: John Tenniel 

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