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Would Doctor Strange think of using a quantum crystal to reveal the secrets of dark matter?

By Elizabeth Rayne
Liz Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange already has the Time Stone, but if he lived in our universe, he would probably be after a quantum crystal. So maybe it can’t transport you through space and time or be worn in a necklace that looks like mesmerizing cosmic eye.

What would make quantum crystal desirable even in the Marvel universe is its hypersensitivity, since it can pick up on such faint electromagnetic signals that it might detect dark matter particles, or axions, in the future. That means it could prove the existence of (still hypothetical) dark matter. Magic? More like quantum mechanics.

There was just one issue with transforming an ordinary beryllium crystal into something borderline paranormal. Quantum noise was in the way. Researcher Diego Barberena and his colleagues, led by atomic physicist Ana Maria Rey of JILA, realized that quantum entanglement was the only way out.

“Creation of quantum entanglement between our system and our probe allowed us to avoid the effects of the noise on our readout and hence we end up with just the signal,” he told SYFY WIRE. “Entanglement allows us to avoid some of the sources of noise present on our system.”

Quantum entanglement of two particles means that they will do the same thing simultaneously no matter how far away they are from each other. This is the same idea behind Hawking radiation, in which one entangled particle escapes a black hole while the other falls in. It is thought that the escaped particle may be able to tell us what actually happens inside a black hole. Entanglement gets around of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which claims that the more precision you observe a particle with, the less you will find out less about its properties.

Creating a quantum crystal involved using a system of electrodes and magnetic fields to trap beryllium ions and prevent their usual tendency to try to repel each other. Without that repulsion, the atoms arranged themselves into a thin, flat crystal. The motions of the beryllium ions were entangled with their spins. Because the beryllium atoms were now able to move as a whole when they felt a signal, the entire crystal would vibrate.

Liz Doctor Strange Necklace

So what makes this crystal so hypersensitive, which would be highly desirable for a superhero who is constantly breaking the laws of physics?

“The crystal consists of many ions, which like to move in an oscillatory fashion with a certain natural frequency,” Barberena said. “If you hit it with something that oscillates at that same frequency the effect on the motion is going to be greater than if you hit it with something oscillating at a lower or higher frequency.”

Another reason this quantum crystal can pick up on such low frequencies is the amount of ions it has. The crystal’s 150 ions to make it seem as if its responses are being measured as many times. Because the thing being measured is the motion of the crystal in response to an electromagnetic signal, and a signal affects the ion spin entangled with it, the researchers were looking for signals that oscillated at the same frequency as the ions. This is the resonance condition—when a signal and a detector are moving at the same frequency.

“By turning on that magnetic field, and assuming axions are present, an electric field signal would be automatically generated,” said Barberena.

At least hypothetically, detecting dark matter would mean that axions would have to morph into photons when they ran into a magnetic field. Axions are believed to create an invisible mass rather than just float around as individual particles. This is why scientists think that entire globs of dark matter exist, but dark matter is supposedly extremely light, so it helps having something that can pick up the faintest signals. This crystal is already ten times more sensitive than anything else, and if axions did turn into photons, it would probably find them.

You can probably imagine how useful this would be for Doctor Strange trying to sense enemies on the prowl, so long as they gave off some sort of electromagnetic signal.

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