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Entanglement is the strange phenomenon in which two quantum particles become so

deeply linked that they share the same existence. When this happens, a measureme
nt on one particle immediately influences the other, regardless of the distance
between them.
Entanglement has puzzled physicists for the best part of a century. At first, it
s very existence was disputed. But today, physicists create entangled particles
in huge numbers in labs all over the world. They routinely use entanglement to s
end perfectly encrypted messages, to study quantum computation, and to better un
derstand the nature of this profound phenomenon.
The ease with which particles such as photons can be entangled has led some phys
icists to ask an interesting additional question: will humans ever be able to see
Today we get an answer thanks to the work of Valentina Caprara Vivoli at the Uni
versity of Geneva in Switzerland a few pals. They ve devised an experiment that sh
ould allow a human eye to directly detect entanglement. And they say the scene i
s now set for the first experiment of this kind.
Finding a way for a human eye to detect entangled photons sounds straightforward
. After all, the eye is a photon detector, so it ought to be possible for an eye
to replace a photo detector in any standard entanglement detecting experiment.
Such an experiment might consist of a source of entangled pairs of photons, each
of which is sent to a photo detector via an appropriate experimental setup.
By comparing the arrival of photons at each detector and by repeating the detect
ing process many times, it is possible to determine statistically whether entang
lement is occurring.
It s easy to imagine that this experiment can be easily repeated by replacing one
of the photodetectors with an eye. But that turns out not to be the case.
The main problem is that the eye cannot detect single photons. Instead, each
ht-detecting rod at the back of the eye must be stimulated by a good handful
photons to trigger a detection. The lowest number of photons that can do the
ck is thought to be about seven, but in practice, people usually see photons
y when they arrive in the hundreds or thousands.


Even then, the eye is not a particularly efficient photodetector. A good optics
lab will have photodetectors that are well over 90 percent efficient. By contras
t, at the very lowest light levels, the eye is about 8 percent efficient. That m
eans it misses lots of photons.
That creates a significant problem. If a human eye is ever to see entanglement in
this way, then physicists will have to entangle not just two photons but at leas
t seven, and ideally many hundreds or thousands of them.
And that simply isn t possible with today s technology. At best, physicists are capa
ble of entangling half a dozen photons but even this is a difficult task.
What s needed is a way of amplifying the effect of a single entangled photon so it
can be detected by the eye, but to do this without destroying the all-important
Vivoli and co say they have devised a trick that effectively amplifies a single
entangled photon into many photons that the eye can see. Their trick depends on
a technique called a displacement operation, in which two quantum objects interf
ere so that one changes the phase of another.

One way to do this with photons is with a beam splitter. Imagine a beam of coher
ent photons from a laser that is aimed at a beam splitter. The beam is transmitt
ed through the splitter but a change of phase can cause it to be reflected inste
Now imagine another beam of coherent photons that interferes with the first. Thi
s changes the phase of the first beam so that it is reflected rather than transm
itted. In other words, the second beam can switch the reflection on and off.
Crucially, the switching beam needn t be as intense as the main beam it only needs t
o be coherent. Indeed, a single photon can do this trick of switching more inten
se beam, at least in theory.
That s the basis of the new approach. The idea is to use a single entangled photon
to switch the passage of more powerful beam through a beam splitter. And it is
this more powerful beam that the eye detects and which still preserves the quant
um nature of the original entanglement.
That s the theory. Vivoli and co say the technology is available to do this kind o
f experiment now. They say their work convincingly demonstrates the possibility t
o realize the first experiment where entanglement is observed with the eye.
Nevertheless, this experiment will be hard to do. Ensuring that the optical ampl
ifier works as they claim will be hard, for example.
And even if it does, reliably recording each detection in the eye will be even h
arder. The test for entanglement is a statistical one that requires many counts
from both detectors. That means an individual would have to sit in the experimen
t registering a yes or no answer for each run, repeated thousands or tens of tho
usands of times. Volunteers will need to have plenty of time on their hands.
Even so, it is possible that the first experiments of this kind are already unde
rway, perhaps even in Vivoli and co s labs. So we may soon find out the identity o
f the first person to see entanglement.
Of course, experiments like this will quickly take the glamor and romance out of
the popular perception of entanglement. Indeed, it s hard to see why anybody woul
d want to be entangled with a photodetector over the time it takes to do this ex
One way to increase this motivation would be to modify the experiment so that it
entangles two humans. It s not hard to imagine a people wanting to take part in s
uch an experiment, perhaps even eagerly.
That will require a modified set up in which both detectors are human eyes, with
their high triggering level and their low efficiency. Whether this will be poss
ible with Vivoli and co s setup isn t yet clear.
Only then will volunteers be able to answer the question that sits uncomfortably
with most physicists. What does it feel like to be entangled with another human
Given the nature of this experiment, the answer will be mind-numbingly boring. But
as Vivoli and co point out in their conclusion: It is safe to say that probing h
uman vision with quantum light is terra incognita. This makes it an attractive c
hallenge on its own.

Ref: arxiv.org/abs/1602.01907: What Does It Take to See Entanglement?