Physics has a tendency to make most people's heads hurt. Quantum physics and all its inherent weirdness, even more so. Now researchers in Israel have taken things to a point where one has to wonder if they're maybe just trolling everyone.
"They start with a scheme known as entanglement swapping. To begin, researchers zap a special crystal with laser light a couple of times to create two entangled pairs of photons, pair 1 and 2 and pair 3 and 4. At the start, photons 1 and 4 are not tangled. But they can be if physicists play the right trick with 2 and 3.
The key is that a measurement "projects" a particle into a definite state -- just as the measurement of a photon collapses it into either vertical or horizontal polarization. So even though photons 2 and 3 start out unentangled, physicists can set up a "projective measurement" that asks, are the two in one of two distinct entangled states or the other? That measurement entangles the photons, even as it absorbs and destroys them. If the researchers select only the events in which photons 2 and 3 end up in, say, the first entangled state, then the measurement also entangles photons 1 and 4. (See diagram, top.) The effect is a bit like joining two pairs of gears to form a four-gear chain: Enmeshing to inner two gears establishes a link between the outer two.
In recent years, physicists have played with the timing in the scheme. For example, last year a team showed that entanglement swapping still works even if they make the projective measurement after they've already measured the polarizations of photons 1 and 4. Now, Eisenberg and colleagues have shown that photons 1 and 4 don't even have to exist at the same time, as they report in a paper in press at Physical Review Letters.