A laser levitating glowing nanodiamonds in a vacuum.

Science Daily might not be as into the poetry of that phrase as I am. They’re more into what it means make a diamond that halfway isn’t there:

The research team is led by Nick Vamivakas at the University of Rochester who thinks their work will make extremely sensitive instruments for sensing tiny forces and torques possible, as well as a way to physically create larger-scale quantum systems known as macroscopic Schrödinger Cat states.

In a previous paper, the researchers had shown that nanodiamonds could be levitated in air using a trapping laser. The new paper now shows this can be done in vacuum, which they say is “a critical advance over previous nanodiamond optical tweezer experiments performed in liquids or at atmospheric pressure.”

Nanodiamonds trapped at atmospheric pressure are continuously agitated by collisions with the air molecules around them. Trapping the diamonds in vacuum removes the effect of all these air molecules. “This allows us to exert mechanical control over them,” said Levi Neukirch, lead author of the paper and a Ph.D. student in Vamivakas’ group at Rochester. “They turn into little harmonic oscillators.”

He explained that the defect’s electrons had to take on specific spin states, two of which are normally “degenerate,” meaning in this case that states with spin values of +1 or -1 have the same energy.

“Without applying a magnetic field these two energy levels are the same, but we can separate them with magnetic field, and they react differently to it. If there was an electron in the spin +1 state and you then applied a magnetic field, the whole nanodiamond would feel a push, but if it was in the spin -1 state it would feel a pull,” he said. “Because the electron spins are intrinsically quantum mechanical, they can exist in something called superpositions. We can create a state where a single spin is in both the +1 and -1 states simultaneously. If we can mechanically place the nanodiamond in the ground state, this would allow us to both push and pull on the spin, hopefully generating a mechanical superposition of the entire diamond. This is a curious phenomenon that physicists are interested in studying, and it is called a macroscopic Schrödinger Cat state.”

Which way will the diamond spin?

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