What the bleep do we know about weaponizing Quantum Mechanics?
November 16, 2006 12:10 AM   Subscribe

Have humans' evil brains yet conceived of ways to weaponize the ideas and implications relating to Quantum Mechanics?

It took roughly 30 years for humanity to weaponize General Relativity. It's been, what, roughly half a century since QM/QP has gained acceptance? This shocking lapse in evil human ingenuity can mean only one thing: I am ignorant to the various sundry DARPA projects that have been undertaken to solve this vexing problem! Please hope me MeFi!
posted by basicchannel to Science & Nature (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I could tell you but then I'd have to kill you.

Joking aside, lasers?
posted by Pollomacho at 12:22 AM on November 16, 2006

yes and no.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 12:35 AM on November 16, 2006 [3 favorites]

General relativity didn't get weaponized, special relativity did. With the help of nuclear physics which is quantum mechanical. Relativity tells you the energy is in principle there, but it's what goes on with the atomic nucleus that lets you get at it.

Anyway, QM has applications all over the place. Lasers like pollomacho said, transistors (which get used everywhere nowadays) and a whole bunch of other stuff, but perhaps not as directly as you'd like for an answer to this question.
posted by edd at 1:03 AM on November 16, 2006

Oh, how about staking out a bad guy and letting the big star in the sky fry him? That's been going on for quite a while too.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:15 AM on November 16, 2006

For one, understanding quantum theory has helped humans develop computers, materials, chemicals, etc., all of which are immensely important in both our daily lives and in military applications.

Some emerging more direct uses of quantum theory (that a computer geek such as myself would have heard of) include:

Quantum Computing, which is theoretical, and would help break codes, and would probably help engineer weapons (but it would also, say, help cure cancer.)

And Quantum Cryptography, which actually exists now, and is useful for sending non-interceptable messages.

Quantum Entanglement might offer opportunities for instantaneous (as in, faster than light) communication.

I've never really heard of a quantum bomb though.
(But it does have a nice ring to it.)
posted by blenderfish at 1:44 AM on November 16, 2006

Oh and this is an entirely silly answer, but quantum mechanics lets you test bombs for duds. Not actually practical in the slightest, but the problem and its solution is cool so I'll post it anyway.
posted by edd at 2:06 AM on November 16, 2006

I see someone else is watching Professor Muller....
posted by pjern at 2:30 AM on November 16, 2006

also, nearly all of what is considered "chemistry" is fundamentally quantum-mechanical, so pretty much any weapon involving explosives, poisons, or some other chemical means of killing people counts in my book.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 3:11 AM on November 16, 2006

As far as my limited understanding goes, quantum mechanics was weaponised early in its conceptualization stage. In 1935, it was initially proposed as a system for killing cats.
posted by Brave New Meatbomb at 3:22 AM on November 16, 2006 [2 favorites]

Since the good old Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle quantifies the probability of where a particular particle is, I imagine that allows for a very small probability that at any one moment your target will turn into a small Duck. So if you sit around and maliciously observe your enemy until they turn into a Duck that counts as a (not very effective) weapon right?

Yeah I got nothing.
posted by public at 5:02 AM on November 16, 2006

Following sergeant sandwich, the first thing I thought of when this question went by was "H-Bomb".

But, more interestingly, if we combine quantum entanglement and relativity, could we make two of those FTL radios and send one of them "into the future" by putting it on a round-trip spacecraft at near-light speed?

Then sports betting would become my piggy bank. That'd be like that middle Back to the Future film which nobody but me likes.

Oh, and... it'd probably have incredible tactical military uses, I guess, sure.
posted by genghis at 5:15 AM on November 16, 2006

Well, it's completely nonsensical, but I suppose if you were writing an SF story, you could turn quantum entanglement into a weapon.

...sort of like a quantum voodoo doll.
posted by aramaic at 6:36 AM on November 16, 2006

Actually, the theoretical work for nuclear bombs involved quite a bit of QM as well. The premise of neutron moderators is a direct consequence of wave-particle duality. Reducing the momentum of nutrons increases their wavelength, increasing the probability that they will interact with heavy nuclei.

I suppose if you want to be pendantic, you could say that ballistic artillery is an application of general relativity, since GR is a way to describe the effects of gravity on spacetime.

I suspect the question really is, why don't we have funny little devices that make the hostess' underpants have the same behavior that we observe of subatomic molecules? The answer to that is that QM effects multiplied over billions of molecules average out to a mundane illusion of solid objects in perceptually flat space. There are a lot of applications of QM, just not many that are as flashy and scary as an H-bomb.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:01 AM on November 16, 2006

yes and no.

LOL. Physics humor.

Ontopic, what blenderfish said.
posted by callmejay at 7:49 AM on November 16, 2006

also, nearly all of what is considered "chemistry" all is fundamentally quantum-mechanical, so pretty much any weapon involving explosives, poisons, or some other chemical means of killing people counts in my book.
posted by solotoro at 8:04 AM on November 16, 2006

Quantum entanglement will NOT allow for faster than light communication. It does appear to send information instantaneously. However, the no communication theorem demonstrates that an observer on the far end would be unable to distinguish this 'information' from random noise.
posted by PercussivePaul at 8:43 AM on November 16, 2006

Quantum Computing, which is theoretical...

Quantum computing is real. A group led by Lieven Vandersypen factorised the number 15 using an implementation of Shor's Algorithm running on an NMR-based quantum computer as long ago as 2001.1 Quantum computers are here and they are coming for your data.

1 Vandersypen, LMK et al (2001) Experimental realization of Shor’s quantum factoring algorithm using nuclear magnetic resonance, Nature 414, 883–887
posted by alby at 9:21 AM on November 16, 2006

... and I forgot to mention the work done by the group, led by the awesome Isaac Chuang and including Vandersypen, at IBM back in 1998.

DISCLAIMER: My final year project was entitled Quantum Computing and Cryptography.
posted by alby at 9:26 AM on November 16, 2006

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