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Quantum Physics Leaps Into The Visible World


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Magnified view of the tiny hair-thin device, called a resonator, scientists used to observe quantum mechanics in action.

A. D. OConnell / Nature

Scientists in California have done something astounding. They've shown that physical laws thought only to rule in the mysterious realm of atoms and electrons can also apply to stuff you can actually see. 

Isaac Newton was pretty much right on in describing the physical laws of how objects in our world behave. But those laws break down when you get to the world of single atoms. So modern physicists came up with a new set of laws, called quantum mechanics, that does explain how things like atoms behave.

Andrew Cleland of the University of California-Santa Barbara says some of the laws are ... well, the word "weird" comes to mind.

"One of the most striking is quantum mechanics says that an object can be in two places at the same time. Or two configurations at the same time," he says.

Cleland says at first, scientists thought the laws of quantum mechanics applied to objects on the atomic scale. Cleland says it's true — physicists have observed quantum effects in structures as large as 60 atoms. That's large for the atomic world, but totally invisible in our world.

Cleland wanted to see if he could find the size where the laws of quantum broke down and everyday laws take over.

From NPR
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