For molecules and atoms, it’s perfectly possible to be in two places at once. The field of quantum mechanics describes these very small systems, and shows us how the rules of nature can be vastly different from our everyday experiences.
Raymond Laflamme, quantum physics researcher and Executive Director of the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo, explains that we typically think about things being either here or there, but quantum mechanics teaches us that things can be both here and there at the same time.
“he world behaves in certain ways, and since we’ve been born, we’ve been used to trying to understand some behaviour of the world – try to control it, try to turn it into technology,” says Laflamme. “When we go to very small systems – the size of atoms, molecules, the kind of fundamental blocks of nature – the rules of nature change.”
This may seem like science fiction, but there are many real world applications of quantum behaviour all around you.
Laflamme explains that understanding the special properties of systems at the atomic level allows us not only to predict quantum behaviour, but also to control it to create new technologies. The computers we have today store information using bits, and these basic units of information can have one of two values: 0 or 1. By storing information as bits with values of 0 and 1, quantum computers gain speed and capacity.
This opens up the potential to manipulate and control all kinds of devices, from simple thermostats to lasers, making them more sensitive and precise than ever.
“We have a family of technologies which seem to be mind-boggling compared to [the devices] we have today,” adds Laflamme. “But there is another implication – maybe more profound – it is changing the way that we view reality. And today, we are the place where the ideas, the lab experiments, are turning into devices that can reach the market and can affect all of you. And this is happening a lot faster than when we thought.”