Invisibility cloak called 'Schrödinger's Hat' helps measure quantum world

By Chelsea Whyte on June 5, 2012 8:48 PM EDT

schrodinger
A matter wave hits a "Schrodinger's hat." The wave inside the container is magnified. Outside, the waves wrap as if they had never encountered any obstacle. (Photo: G. Uhlmann, University of Wash)

What may seem like magic is becoming reality, as scientists create more metamaterials that act as invisibility cloaks. Metamaterials are engineered to have qualities not found in nature, and some have already been used to conceal objects from detection by magnetism, sound waves or microwaves.

Now, an international team of researchers has conceived of a metamaterial they're calling "Schrödinger's Hat" in reference to the famous quantum mechanics thought-experiment by Edwin Schrodinger. Their theoretical work, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, devises a material that could trap a signal from an atomic particle, while leaving the source of the signal undisturbed.

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Such a trap could come in handy in the nanotechnology field, where making measurements without disturbing the observed particle can be difficult on such a small scale.

"Conceptually, a Schrödinger's hat is like an invisible battery. It captures a tiny bit of energy without fiddling with the [energy] waves so you can later get a measurement," said mathematician and study co-author Allan Greenleaf, according to Wired Science.   

"If you're trying to image something at the nanoscale, say a computer chip or nanodevice, you might get very close to it without disturbing it," continued Greenleaf.

The researchers propose manipulating matter waves, which are the mathematical description of particles in quantum physics. They envision creating a quantum microscope that could capture quantum waves and be used to monitor electronic process on computer chips, reports Futurity.org.

When a matter waves encounter a Schrödinger's hat, they move around the central container as if undisturbed, and at the same time whatever is inside the container is magnified. So essentially it goes unseen yet simultaneously becomes easier to see.

"In some sense you are doing something magical, because it looks like a particle is being created," said Gunther Uhlmann, a mathematics professor at the university. "It's like pulling something out of your hat."

"You can isolate and magnify what you want to see and make the rest invisible," he said. 

Though this work has been theoretical to date, the team is now working to build a working prototype. 

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