(SantaFeMexican) Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory have developed a Superconducting Quantum Interference Device (SQUID) device that is only a fraction of the diameter of a human hair, but it’s much larger than most things that follow quantum laws. Unlike atoms and individual molecules, the SQUID is potentially visible under a microscope, and the research team expects to make bigger versions in the future.
Electronic SQUIDs are common in medical imaging machines and other applications that rely on sensitive magnetic sensors. They detect changes in magnetic fields by monitoring the flow of electric current in a loop. Conventional SQUIDs are sensitive to the very smallest magnet field quantity allowed by quantum mechanics. Although circuitry of electronic SQUIDs can be large enough to see with the naked eye, the quantum interactions involve invisible magnetic fields and electric currents inside wires.
The Los Alamos atomtronic SQUID, on the other hand, relies on clouds of super-cold atoms trapped with laser light, instead of electric currents inside metal. That means one could potentially watch quantum interactions as they play out by observing the atom clouds in motion.
The individual atoms in an atomtronic SQUID obey quantum rules, including the ability to blend together to become a single cloud-like entity, which in turn follows quantum rules. There’s no limit to how many atoms can come together this way, which means that we can make very large blobs of atoms that are potentially both visible and quantum mechanical at the same time. The result is something that exists simultaneously in the weird quantum world and ours. Just what that will look like isn’t yet clear, but it will potentially help solve the mystery of how everyone and everything around us are built of quantum pieces although we live a distinctly non-quantum existence.