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Tunneling between a Tremble and a Swing

Monday, September 24, 2007

New research is challenging the notion that quantum mechanics is the science of the small and static.

Research published in the Physical Review Letters suggests that quantum tunneling, one of several phenomena associated exclusively with the quantum level, may also occur with larger and dynamic systems.

In quantum physics, quantum tunneling draws on micro and nanoscopic phenomenon in order to allow a particle to pass through a barrier that is too high to overcome by classical physical events. It has been widely assumed that the larger a macroscopic system becomes, the less likely it is for the quantum physics effects, such as tunneling, to occur.

New results from Ioana Serban, of the University of Munich, and Frank Wilhelm, of the University of Waterloo, suggest that quantum tunneling may be more common than expected and can occur in macroscopic quantum mechanical systems. They suggest that tunneling can occur not only between two places, but between two patterns of motion. In particular,it may be possible for a nanomechanical clapper to generate both a pendulum swing and a tiny tremor at the same time. The discovery will advance the development of detectors to be used in quantum computing.

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