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Scientists in the United States and Scotland say they have greatly improved a method of making direct measurements of quantum states without permanently altering them.

In a paper published in the current issue of the scientific journal Nature Communications and titled "Direct measurement of a 27-dimensional orbital-angular-momentum state vector," a team of physicists led by the University of Rochester's Mehul Malik describe how they circumvented a basic principle of uncertainty that requires that some states of a quantum system must be understood poorly if other states are to be understood well.

Determining a quantum state, such as the position of an electron or the momentum of a photon, is tricky, to say the least. That's because subatomic particles behave nothing at all like billiard balls, orbiting moons, or any other kind of object with which we humans are remotely familiar.

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