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Until this year, all human-made objects have moved according to the laws of classical mechanics. Back in March, however, a group of researchers designed a gadget that moves in ways that can only be described by quantum mechanics — the set of rules that governs the behavior of tiny things like molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles.
In recognition of the conceptual ground their experiment breaks, the ingenuity behind it and its many potential applications, Science has called this discovery the most significant scientific advance of 2010. Physicists Andrew Cleland and John Martinis from the University of California at Santa Barbara and their colleagues designed the machine—a tiny metal paddle of semiconductor, visible to the naked eye—and coaxed it into dancing with a quantum groove.
First, they cooled the paddle until it reached its “ground state,” or the lowest energy state permitted by the laws of quantum mechanics (a goal long-sought by physicists). Then they raised the widget’s energy by a single quantum to produce a purely quantum-mechanical state of motion. They even managed to put the gadget in both states at once, so that it literally vibrated a little and a lot at the same time—a bizarre phenomenon allowed by the weird rules of quantum mechanics.
A device that exists in two different states at the same time, and coincidentally proves that Albert Einstein was right when he thought he was wrong, has been named as the scientific breakthrough of the year.
The machine, consisting of a sliver of wafer-thin metal, is the first man-made device to be governed by the mysterious quantum forces that operate at the level of atoms and sub-atomic particles.
Normal, everyday objects obey the laws of conventional Newtonian physics, named after Sir Isaac Newton, but these rules break down on the sub-atomic scale and a whole new branch of theoretical physics had to be invented to explain what happens on this sub-microscopic level.
Einstein was the first to embrace quantum physics but later rejected it on the grounds that it made everything unpredictable – "God does not play dice with the universe," he famously stated.........