Schrödinger’s cat becoming alive

Quantum physics is weird – at least for our classically trained minds. It allows particles to be here and there at the same time. Or Schrödinger’s cat, which is alive and dead at the same time.

But Nature seems to behave according to the weird laws of quantum physics. It describes phenomena in our world from the very microscopic like the physics of elementary particles and nuclear physics, to atoms and molecules, chemistry and material science, all the way way to cosmology, where we see quantum fluctuations left over from the big bang in the cosmic background radiation. But quantum physics also leads to important applications, e.g. the computers we build today rely on quantum physics, or the lasers in DVD players, or the Global Positioning Systems. Sometimes this is called the first quantum revolution.

But there is another vision – and a challenge. It is the vision of a second quantum revolution, as originally formulated by Richard Feynman, where we want to unleash the power of quantum physics in an unprecedented way. The challenge is to be able to control quantum particles — photons, atoms, electrons etc. — down to the level of single quanta. This will allow us to build new quantum devices: new computing machines such as quantum computers and new quantum algorithms, which we can run on these quantum machines to solve problems a classical computer, we believe, cannot.

What is remarkable is that this second quantum revolution is happening right now. We now have in our laboratories small scale quantum computers. Of course, they still have to grow up to become useful, but they are part of a coming quantum technology which may well be the disruptive technology of the 21st Century.

But how do we learn to think “quantum”: to program our new quantum machines – even if you are not a trained quantum physicist. The answer is to play qCraft. Actually, qCraft goes beyond a game to provide you with a new kind of intuition of the quantum world, where quantum physics is no longer weird, but has its own intuitive reality. A good investment into your and our future.

Peter Zoller is Professor of Physics at the University of Innsbruck, and Director at the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Innsbruck, Austria.

qCraft at Minecon

Institute for Quantum Ocelots and Matter

We’re here at Minecon 2013 and excited to share some cool stuff with folks here in Orlando and at home.

If you’re at Minecon, stop by our booth to play with the mod, meet the team, learn some quantum physics from our friends at Caltech and hit us up on Twitter with hashtag #qCraft. We’ve also got a panel on qCraft happening at 1:40PM on Saturday. And be sure to check your goody bags for qCraft stickers and a chance to score a sweet qCraft t-shirt with our entangled scavenger hunt.

If you’re at home, you can download and play the quantum map we’re debuting in our booth for either Minecraft or MinecraftEdu. You’ll also need to the mod itself, available on our downloads page.

qCraft 1.02 with Minecraft 1.6.4 support

We just released a minor update to qCraft (version 1.02). Version 1.02 is still officially built for Minecraft 1.5.2, but we’ve also released a separate 1.02 download for Minecraft 1.6.4 as a public beta.

If you are directly installing qCraft, a licensed copy of Minecraft is still required, as is a version-appropriate installation of Forge.

You can get version 1.02 on our downloads page.

A matter of perspective…

When designing the qCraft mod, we decided to highlight three concepts: Observational dependency, superposition and quantum entanglement. In the mod, there are two basic types of new blocks one can craft: observer dependent blocks (ODB) and quantum blocks (QB). The former represent classical blocks with a hint of quantumness, whereas the latter represent fully quantum objects.

The purpose of ODBs within the mod is twofold: First, to provide the classical background upon which quantum mechanical behavior can be contrasted. Second, to create exciting new structures within Minecraft that do not fall prey to the intrinsic randomness of quantum mechanics.

So, what exactly is an ODB?

An ODB is like a coin: it simply looks different (heads or tails) depending on your point of view. When two ODBs are “entangled”, it is like having two coins that are either both heads or both tails. No matter how far apart you take the two coins, unless you flip one of them, they will always look the same when viewed from above or below. Even if you give one of these coins to a friend and ask them to look at it at random, you will know what they see if they tell you the direction from which they looked at the coin. The same would be true for two dice, or two ODBs in Minecraft. There is nothing spooky about this.

The one weird feature of ODBs that is absent from dice and coins is this: once you look at an ODB from a new point of view, the block will not change its properties unless you look away and look again from a different point of view – for a coin or die, you will see something different once you look from a different point of view, even if you were looking at the objects the whole time. This feature of ODBs starts hinting at the following simple, but powerful truth about our world: We are not passive observers in a universe that evolves around us. We are part of the universe and as such, the line between observer and observed is blurred.

But as I mentioned above, ODBs are not quantum. What are they missing, then? They are missing the element of quantum superposition. Quantum what? An explanation will have to wait until next time. In the meantime, here is an animation on what is quantum, to whet your appetite.