It might not be as cute as Schrödinger’s cat, but the adorably alien-looking tardigrade — also known as a water bear — may soon be the next most famous quantum animal — and it’s providing hints the ever thinning line between quantum mechanics and the world of biological systems.
In a study, released on the pre-print server ArXiv, a team of scientists coupled a tardigrade — a microscopic multicellular organism — with a superconducting qubit and then created a highly entangled state with another qubit. According to the team, the tardigrade remained entangled with the other subsystems.
It’s important to note that tardigrades can withstand extreme living conditions and this quantum water bear, itself, was put in a state called cryptobiosis, a state of extreme inactivity in response to adverse conditions.
That part of the experiment, in itself, was a scientific achievement, the researchers report, adding that “The animal is then observed to return to its active form after 420 hours at sub 10 mK temperatures and pressure of 6 × 10−6 mbar, setting a new record for the conditions that a complex form of life can survive.”
The experiment, itself, may have a rather Rick and Morty vibe, but it’s actually an important step in the investigation is just how “quantum” biology — and, therefore life — is, or can be.
The researchers report: “Quantum and biological systems are seldom discussed together as they seemingly demand opposing conditions. Life is complex, “hot and wet” whereas quantum objects are small, cold and well controlled.”
While quantum experts have long thought that the connection between biological and quantum matter would be impossible, if this experiment holds and if further work bears it out, this experiment could be an important step in both establishing that connection and, possibly, even creating technology built at this nexus of quantum and biological matter.
“Our present investigation is perhaps the closest realisation combining biological matter and quantum matter available with present-day technology,” the researchers state. “While one might expect similar physical results from inanimate object with similar composition to the tardigrade, we emphasise that entanglement is observed with entire organism that retains its biological functionality post experiment. At the same time, the tardigrade survived the most extreme and prolonged conditions it has ever been exposed to, demonstrating that cryptobiosis (latent life) is truly ametabolic.”
While this is very preliminary work, the team encouraged other teams to investigate the possibilities: “We hope this will stimulate further experiments with the states of the animal being more and more macroscopically distinguishable. Our work provides a first step in the exciting direction of creating hybrid systems consisting of living matter and quantum bits.”
Studies on ArXiv have not been officially peer reviewed, but it often serves as a way to promote that process before the studies are considered by scientific journals.
Institutions involved in the research would include: Nanyang Technological University, National University of Singapore, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, University of Copenhagen, University of Oxford and the University of Gdansk.
The National Research Foundation and the Ministry of Education of Singapore, and the Polish National Agency for Academic Exchange supported this work.