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Creating a Quantum Superposition of Living Things 321

Posted by kdawson
from the wanted-dead-and-alive dept.
KentuckyFC writes "Having created quantum superpositions of photons, atoms, and even molecules, scientists are currently preparing to do the same for larger objects — namely viruses. The technique will involve storing a virus in a vacuum and then cooling it to its quantum-mechanical ground state in a microcavity. Zapping the virus with a laser then leaves it in a superposition of its ground state and an excited one. That's no easy task, however. The virus will have to survive the vacuum, behave like a dielectric, and appear transparent to the laser light, which would otherwise tear it apart. Now a group of researchers has worked out that several viruses look capable of surviving the superposition process, including the common flu virus and the tobacco mosaic virus. They point out that after creating the superposition, scientists will be able to perform the Schrodinger's Cat experiment for the first time, which should be fun (but less so for the virus)."
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Creating a Quantum Superposition of Living Things

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  • Viruses don't live (Score:3, Informative)

    by tsa (15680) on Friday September 11, 2009 @11:29AM (#29389719) Homepage

    Viruses are not living things. They have no metabolism and need a host to reproduce. They're basically just packets of proteins containing DNA.

  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Friday September 11, 2009 @11:38AM (#29389849) Journal

    And sometimes RNA. And the case is not the clear. Certainly there are other symbionts and parasites that require a host for reproduction. The problem, as always, is that nature does not behave in the nice, clean way our minds would like.

  • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Friday September 11, 2009 @11:45AM (#29389947) Homepage
    A lot of the researchers who work with viruses consider them to be alive. See for example this piece by Abbie Smith explaining why viruses should be considered to be alive and why most of the arguments against are not convincing: http://scienceblogs.com/erv/2009/03/ten_five_reasons_clumsy_excuse.php [scienceblogs.com]. The people who argue that viruses aren't alive are almost inevitably non-biologists or biologists who don't work with viruses.
  • by tkjtkj (577219) * <tkjtkj@gmail.com> on Friday September 11, 2009 @11:59AM (#29390131)

    By any criteria, viruses are NOT LIVING THINGS!

    All the convoluted wording you choose to assemble will never
    show otherwise.

    viruses are packets of DNA or RNA 'packedup' into envelopes of protein. They are like a letter you'd send to anyone: In fact, totally FREE (un-enveloped) DNA,eg, is found everywhere in nature.. Even yoiur highschool bio class must have shown you pics of stings of dna being drawn into bacterial cells!!

    virus DNA, eg, can not only be frozen solid for millions of years, but it can be CRYSTALIZED!
    Do THAT to a tadpole, why dontchya!

    j. anderson, md
    tkjtkj@gmail.com

  • Re:I implore you, (Score:3, Informative)

    by jollyreaper (513215) on Friday September 11, 2009 @12:24PM (#29390449)

    Amercian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Microscopic Organisms That May Or May Not Be Alive

    or "NAMBLA" for short.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 11, 2009 @12:41PM (#29390619)

    Actually, no. It's a common misconception about QM that the 'probability field' is an illusion. It's not that we just don't know yet, it's that /literally/ there exists, at the same time, both states. The double-slit experiment with a single electron proves this. A single electron, when fired at a pair of slits, is actually a 'ripple of probability' rather than a dot. It's a ripple that's wide enough to pass through both slits, and cause interference on the other side. When we observe it, we see it as a single dot, but if you do that a lot, you see that the distribution of electrons really does look like an interference pattern.

    In short, it's not just "when you open the box, it immediately reverts to either the cat having died, or not," but rather while the cat is in a superposition, it can actually have an effect on the 'other' reality. I have no idea what would interfere in a macro-object, though. I guess that's why we're experimenting.

  • by Ironica (124657) <pixel&boondock,org> on Friday September 11, 2009 @12:50PM (#29390739) Journal

    Well, here's a much more detailed discusssion:

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=are-viruses-alive-2004 [scientificamerican.com]

    Not conclusive one way or another, but it certainly informs the debate.

  • by osu-neko (2604) on Friday September 11, 2009 @01:07PM (#29390919)

    If we pull a DNA strand out of a nucleus from one of your cells and put it on a plate, it is not a living thing. It remains true that if we put it back undamaged, it can then reproduce, but it's still just a DNA fragment.

    If we are to say viruses are living things, it would imply that that DNA fragment is a living thing.

    Also, we've been on a crusade recently to taxonomically reclassify everything based on its evolutionary history, now that our understanding of DNA enables us to determine this. Since viruses, being leftover DNA or RNA fragments from the breakup of expired bacteria for the most part, they don't have an evolutionary history per se. They don't fit into the taxonomic classes for living things anywhere. A severed or left-over part of a living being is not, in an of itself, a living being, no matter how it behaves when you reattach or reinsert it into one.

  • by osu-neko (2604) on Friday September 11, 2009 @01:16PM (#29391019)

    Another issue is that a cat can't be alive and dead, only one or the other. Just because YOU don't know which, doesn't mean that it doesn't, or that reality doesn't. [...]

    Yes, that was once a common philosophical view of reality, but it's one that's flat out contradicted by observation. I'm ignoring the errors in the rest of your post since it all seems to follow from the above false statements.

  • by IICV (652597) on Friday September 11, 2009 @02:29PM (#29391913)
    You know what else is common consensus? The plural of "virus" is "viruses".

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