Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

NIST physicists coax six atoms into quantum ’cat’ state

01.12.2005


Scientists at the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have coaxed six atoms into spinning together in two opposite directions at the same time, a so-called Schrödinger "cat" state that obeys the unusual laws of quantum physics. The ambitious choreography could be useful in applications such as quantum computing and cryptography, as well as ultra-sensitive measurement techniques, all of which rely on exquisite control of nature’s smallest particles.


NIST researchers have succeeded in coaxing six ions into an unusual quantum "cat" state in which their nuclei are collectively spinning clockwise and counterclockwise at the same time.



The experiment, which was unusually challenging even for scientists accustomed to crossing the boundary between the macroscopic and quantum worlds, is described in the Dec. 1 issue of Nature.* NIST scientists entangled six beryllium ions (charged atoms) so that their nuclei were collectively spinning clockwise and counterclockwise at the same time. Entanglement, which Albert Einstein called "spooky action at a distance," occurs when the quantum properties of two or more particles are correlated. The NIST work, along with a paper by Austrian scientists published in the same issue of Nature, breaks new ground for entanglement of multiple particles in the laboratory. The previous record was five entangled photons, the smallest particles of light.

"It is very difficult to control six ions precisely for a long enough time to do an experiment like this," says physicist Dietrich Leibfried, lead author of the NIST paper.


The ability to exist in two states at once is another peculiar property of quantum physics known as "superposition." The NIST ions were placed in the most extreme superposition of spin states possible with six ions. All six nuclei are spinning in one direction and the opposite direction simultaneously or what physicists call Schrödinger cat states. The name was coined in a famous 1935 essay in which German physicist Erwin Schrödinger described an extreme theoretical case of being in two states simultaneously, namely a cat that is both dead and alive at the same time.

Schrödinger’s point was that cats are never observed in such states in the macroscopic "real world," so there seems to be a boundary where the strange properties of quantum mechanics--the rule book for Nature’s smallest particles--give way to everyday experience. The NIST work, while a long way from full entanglement of a real cat’s roughly 1026 atoms, extends the domain where Schrödinger cat states can exist to at least six atoms. The Austrian team used a different approach to entangle more ions (eight) but in a less sensitive state.

In the NIST experiment, the ions are held a few micrometers apart in an electromagnetic trap. Ultraviolet lasers are used to cool the ions to near absolute zero and manipulate them in three steps. To create and maintain the cat states, the researchers fine-tuned trap conditions to reduce unwanted heating of the ions, improved cooling methods, and automated some of the calibrations and other formerly manual processes. One run of the experiment takes about 1 millisecond; the cat states last about 50 microseconds (about 1/20 as long). The team ran the experiment successfully tens of thousands of times, including numerous runs that entangled four, five, or six ions.

Entanglement and superpositions are being exploited in laboratories around the world in the development of new technologies such as quantum computers. If they can be built, quantum computers could solve certain problems in an exponentially shorter time than conventional computers of a similar size. For example, current supercomputers would require years to break today’s best encryption codes, (which are used to keep bank transactions and other important information secret) while quantum computers could quickly decipher the codes. Quantum computers also may be useful for optimizing complex systems such as airline schedules and database searching, developing "fraud-proof" digital signatures, or simulating complex biological systems for use in drug design.

Cat states, because they are superpositions of opposite overall properties that are relatively easy to verify, could be useful in a NIST-proposed design for fault-tolerant quantum computers. In addition, cat states are more sensitive to disturbance than other types of superpositions, a potentially useful feature in certain forms of quantum encryption, a new method for protecting information by making virtually all eavesdropping detectable.

The entangled cat states created by the NIST researchers also might be used to improve precision instruments, such as atomic clocks or interferometers that measure microscopic distances. Six ions entangled in a cat state are about 2½ times more sensitive to external magnetic fields than six unentangled ions, offering the possibility of better magnetic field sensors, or (for fixed external magnetic fields) better frequency sensors, which are components of atomic clocks. In addition, correlations between entangled ions could improve measurement precision, because a measurement of the spin of one of the entangled ions makes it possible to predict the spin of all remaining ions with certainty.

An animation related to the release can be seen here: http://www.nist.gov/public_affairs/images/NIST_CatStates_embed.html.

If you need Quick Time 7 downloaded for free: http://www.apple.com/quicktime/download/win.html.

Laura Ost | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nist.gov/public_affairs/images/NIST_CatStates_embed.html
http://www.apple.com/quicktime/download/win.html
http://www.nist.gov

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Further Improvement of Qubit Lifetime for Quantum Computers
09.12.2016 | Forschungszentrum Jülich

nachricht Electron highway inside crystal
09.12.2016 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Electron highway inside crystal

Physicists of the University of Würzburg have made an astonishing discovery in a specific type of topological insulators. The effect is due to the structure of the materials used. The researchers have now published their work in the journal Science.

Topological insulators are currently the hot topic in physics according to the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Only a few weeks ago, their importance was...

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Researchers identify potentially druggable mutant p53 proteins that promote cancer growth

09.12.2016 | Life Sciences

Scientists produce a new roadmap for guiding development & conservation in the Amazon

09.12.2016 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

Satellites, airport visibility readings shed light on troops' exposure to air pollution

09.12.2016 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>