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Quantum superposition of distinct macroscopic states

Abstract

In 1935, Schrödinger1 attempted to demonstrate the limitations of quantum mechanics using a thought experiment in which a cat is put in a quantum superposition of alive and dead states. The idea remained an academic curiosity until the 1980s when it was proposed2,3,4 that, under suitable conditions, a macroscopic object with many microscopic degrees of freedom could behave quantum mechanically, provided that it was sufficiently decoupled from its environment. Although much progress has been made in demonstrating the macroscopic quantum behaviour of various systems such as superconductors5,6,7,8,9, nanoscale magnets10,11,12, laser-cooled trapped ions13, photons in a microwave cavity14 and C60 molecules15, there has been no experimental demonstration of a quantum superposition of truly macroscopically distinct states. Here we present experimental evidence that a superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID) can be put into a superposition of two magnetic-flux states: one corresponding to a few microamperes of current flowing clockwise, the other corresponding to the same amount of current flowing anticlockwise.

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Figure 1: SQUID potential, energy-level anticrossing and experimental set-up.
Figure 2: Calculated energy levels and photon-assisted tunnelling process.
Figure 3: Experimental data.
Figure 4: Energy of the measured peaks relative to the calculated mean of the two levels as a function of ε.

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Acknowledgements

We thank D. Averin and S. Han for useful conversations, J. Männik, R. Rouse and A. Lipski for technical advice and assistance and M. P. Sarachik for the loan of some equipment. This work was supported by the US Army Research Office and the US National Science Foundation.

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Correspondence to Jonathan R. Friedman.

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Friedman, J., Patel, V., Chen, W. et al. Quantum superposition of distinct macroscopic states. Nature 406, 43–46 (2000). https://doi.org/10.1038/35017505

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