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  • Rachel Low

Schrödinger’s Cat: Dead, Alive or Both?

Edited by Lizzy Yee.


Have you ever wondered what it meant when Janet Van Dyne told Scott that he’s trapped in Schrödinger’s Box in the movie Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania? In the movie, when Scott, a.k.a. Ant Man was asked by Kang the Conqueror to retrieve the “multiverse core”, he was caught in a probability storm where different versions of himself kept replicating (Wong, 2023). Now, we were all intrigued by how he managed to utilize the probability storm to retrieve the core, but what exactly is Schrödinger’s Box? Did you know how the bizarre theory came about?

Note. Adapted from Twitter by @captaincupkicks. (2023)

Rances, M. (n.d.). The Physics of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. Epicstream. Retrieved from https://epicstream.com/article/what-is-a-probability-storm-in-ant-man-the-wasp-quantumania


In quantum mechanics, Schrödinger’s cat is a thought experiment devised by Erwin Schrödinger, a physicist who hypothesized that a cat may be both dead and alive based on quantum superposition (Metwalli, 2023). Quantum superposition shows that a quantum system can exist in multiple states simultaneously.

Knee, G. C. (2015). Do Quantum Superpositions Have a Size Limit? APS Physics. Retrieved from https://physics.aps.org/articles/v8/6


In the experiment, a flask of poison, a cat, and a radioactive source are placed in a sealed box (Wikipedia contributors, n.d.). It was theorized that without opening the box, the state of the cat is simultaneously dead and alive. However, when one opens the box and sees it, the cat will either be dead or alive. The reality will resolve itself into one possibility or the other.

Wikipedia contributors. (n.d.). Schrödinger’s cat. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schrödinger%27s_cat


However, there were many contradictions and debates to the initial interpretation. For instance, the many-worlds interpretation elucidated that rather than collapsing into a single state, the cat and the observer’s consciousness split into separate branches of reality (Wikipedia contributors, n.d.). This will create multiple parallel universes where each outcome is realised. In one universe, the observer sees a dead cat, while in another universe, the observers see a well and alive cat. To sum up, the interpretation suggests that all possible outcomes exist simultaneously, but in different branches of the multiverse, somewhat similar to how Marvel explained its multiverse.

Wikipedia contributors. (n.d.). Many-worlds interpretation. Wikipedia.


As scientists dwelled more into quantum mechanics, they soon realized that the experiment was not meant to be performed. This is due to the fact that the thought experiment does not work on macroscopic objects, i.e. a cat, but rather microscopic objects such as electrons. protons and quantum bits (Mack, 2023). These atomic-sized quantities were experimented with. The results showed that they would superimpose— proving the existence of quantum superposition.


In the present world, quantum superposition has been extremely important in several fields such as quantum computing, cryptography, and sensing. Quantum computing, one of the most popular applications of quantum superposition, can perform complex calculations at speeds far beyond what classical computers can achieve (Chang, 2023). It utilizes Schrödinger’s theory that a cat could be simultaneously dead and alive and concludes that qubits can be both 1 and 0 simultaneously. In addition to that, quantum cryptography ensures that any attempt to intercept encrypted messages will be immediately detected hence providing a huge advancement in the cybersecurity field (Gillis, n.d.). Last but not least, the utilization of quantum superposition in quantum sensing plays an important role in the safety of mankind. For instance, quantum sensing allows us to detect gravitational waves, magnetic fields, and individual particles which could impact fields such as medicine and environmental monitoring (Bae Systems, n.d.).


As more researchers start to dive deeper into quantum mechanics, it is believed that this field will be the next game changer in the technological industry. While Schrodinger’s cat may remain as a thought experiment, its significance in popularising the concepts of superposition and quantum mechanics cannot be underemphasised. As our understanding of quantum mechanics deepens, we may witness even more remarkable breakthroughs that shape the future of science and technology. Could humans soon build a time-traveling machine? Well, we’ll just have to find out soon…

 

References:

  1. Bae Systems. (n.d.). What is Quantum Sensing. Retrieved June 16, 2023. from https://www.baesystems.com/en-us/definition/what-is-quantum-sensing#:~:text=Quantum%20Sensing%20is%20an%20advanced,collected%20at%20the%20atomic%20level.

  2. Chang, K. (2023, June 15). Quantum Computing Advance Begins New Era, IBM Says. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/06/14/science/ibm-quantum-computing.html#:~:text=A%20quantum%20computer%20performs%20calculations,both%201%20and%200%20simultaneously.

  3. Gillis, A. S. (2022). quantum cryptography. Security. https://www.techtarget.com/searchsecurity/definition/quantum-cryptography#:~:text=Quantum%20cryptography%20is%20a%20method,secret%20key%20can%20decrypt%20it.

  4. Mack, K. (2023). Why Schrödinger’s Cat is still the most controversial thought experiment in science. BBC Science Focus Magazine. https://www.sciencefocus.com/news/schrodingers-cat-thought-experiment-baffle-inspire-physicists/

  5. Metwalli, S. (2023). What Is Schrödinger’s Cat? Built In. https://builtin.com/software-engineering-perspectives/schrodingers-cat

  6. Wikipedia contributors. (2023a). Schrödinger’s cat. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schr%C3%B6dinger%27s_cat#:~:text=In%20the%20thought%20experiment%2C%20a,may%20or%20may%20not%20occur

  7. Wikipedia contributors. (2023b). Many-worlds interpretation. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Many-worlds_interpretation

  8. Wong, T. (2023, February 18). The Physics of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania - Tom Wong - Medium. Medium. https://medium.com/@thomaswong_8663/the-physics-of-ant-man-and-the-wasp-quantumania-c4501f2296d1




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