Quantum Mechanics Picks Pitt in Basketball 'Bracketology'!

  • By Workstudy User
  • 24 March 2013

Image credit: CJN, ISNS | Doug L. via flickr: http://bit.ly/WC4QCX. Rights information: http://bit.ly/QafmwKHow many articles mention college basketball and Ytterbium in the same sentence?

Like many sports fans across the country, five groups of physicists at the University of Maryland are filling out their brackets to predict the winners and losers in the NCAA men's basketball tournament. While most people use a strategy to guide their picks — such as relying on advanced basketball knowledge or identifying the cutest mascot — this Maryland method relies on quantum physics.

David Hucul, a graduate student, came up with the idea. Last year, his quantum picks performed surprisingly well against picks from other people in the laboratory. "It almost won," Susan Clark, a post-doctoral researcher who works with Hucul. "It was kind of scary."

When used to assist in picking basketball games, the team uses a phenomenon called superposition. They coax the ytterbium ion to act a bit like a coin. In the same way that flipping a fair coin yields a random result of heads or tails, superposition allows the physicists to prepare the ion to have a 50-50 chance of ending up in state A or state B. It's possible that, based on the way a coin is flipped, the result isn't always truly random. But by using quantum phenomena, in which the location or state of an object is based on probability, the result is truly random.

Hucul and Clark create an ion that is simultaneously in those two states. They assign one state to each basketball team, and then record the ion's verdict for each game of the tournament. The ion's picks suggested that the University of Pittsburgh, the No. 8 seed in the West Region, will win this year's tournament. The New York Times' Nate Silver pegged the Panthers' chances of winning the whole thing at about 0.8 percent — making them about the 13th most likely champ, his analysis indicated.

Read the original article here. Go Panthers!