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.

Wrapping our brains around quantum mechanics

Quantum mechanics is not just difficult to learn, it literally doesn’t make sense. Our brains and language did not evolve to describe phenomena on that scale; classical intuition has no place In explaining superposition and entanglement.

The historical resolution of this incompatibility was to use the language of mathematics to model quantum mechanics. Over time, practitioners could develop a new kind of intuition based outside of their direct sensory experience.

qCraft represents a new kind of approach that was not available to Schrodinger. The partial differential equations used by working quantum mechanics reflect the information technology of the last century, a pencil and a piece of paper. Numerical simulation is essential in many areas of science, but it is not conventionally interactive and immersive in the way that Minecraft is. qCraft is not just a game, it’s a tool to extend our faculties.

Dr. Neil Gershenfeld is Director of the Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT.