Secrets of Almaden

An elegant experiment at a Bay Area lab echoes through the world of quantum physics

Using the quantum mirage, the bit-encoded information is transported without conventional wires, which typically conduct information-bearing energies at the expense of losing some energy as, for instance, heat. The quantum mirage, on the other hand, transmits information inside the quantum corral without using any energy.

Eigler discusses other applications, such as using the quantum mirage to probe the characteristics of atoms and molecules remotely, while minimizing the disturbing electronic effects of a probe upon its small subjects. It seems obvious that the quantum mirage will be a useful tool in inventing the new field of nanomechanics, possibly helping to solve problems in sparking a revolution based on quantum computers.

And then there is the nagging question about teleportation. How much information needs to be transported before the copy becomes more than a mirage? Until the replica becomes a thing itself? Until an atom can be considered to have been teleported?

One prominent physicist sees a "sketchy" connection between the quantum mirage and ongoing attempts to teleport certain aspects of atoms ("quantum states") and, even, whole atoms. Eigler says emphatically, however, that the quantum mirage is not a teleportation event.

By way of further explanation, Eigler holds up a pink pencil eraser. The quality of pinkness that is transmitted to the observer's eyeball, he says, is analogous to a quality of the cobalt atom copied at the second focus of the quantum mirage. Ever the model empiricist, Eigler suddenly stops talking. It is clear that the philosophical questions posed by the existence of the quantum mirage may not be solved as simply -- and elegantly -- as the more concrete equations imbedded in the data.

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