A physicist in the UK created the fifth state of matter from her living room during her coronavirus lock using quantum technology.
Dr. Amruta Gadge of the University of Sussex created a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC) – a state in which matter clumps extremely cold atoms and pretend to be a single entity.
Despite working 2 miles from the lab from her living room, Dr. Gadge was able to use her computer to control lasers and radio waves and create the BEC.
Researchers from the university’s quantum department think it’s the first time anyone has set up a BEC remotely in a lab that didn’t have one yet.
The achievement could yield a blueprint for using a computer to control quantum technology remotely, in inaccessible environments such as space or underwater.
Quantum technology uses the creepy effects of quantum physics to vastly accelerate information processing, which could lead to the most powerful computer on Earth.
Dr Amruta Gadge works from home, about two miles from the University of Sussex lab, with a picture of the BEC on her screen
BOSE-EINSTEIN CONDENSATE: THE FIFTH FORM OF BUSINESS
A Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC) is known as the fifth state of matter, after solid, liquid, gas, and plasma.
It is formed at a fraction above absolute zero and only in atoms that act as bosons, one of two basic particles.
When cooled to form condensate, bosonic atoms can lose their individuality.
They behave like one big collective superatom, somewhat like how photons can no longer be distinguished in a laser beam.
The first BEC was shown experimentally nearly 25 years ago by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder in the United States.
“We are all very excited that we can continue to conduct our experiments remotely during the interlock and any future interlock,” said Peter Krüger, professor of experimental physics at the University of Sussex.
“Improving the capabilities of remote laboratory control is relevant for research applications aimed at operating quantum technology in inaccessible environments such as space, underground, in a submarine, or in extreme climates.”
The fifth state of matter follows solid, liquid, gas, and plasma, which is produced when the atoms in a gas are ionized.
In the mid-1920s, Albert Einstein and Indian physicist Satyendra Nath Bose predicted that quantum mechanics can compel a large number of particles to behave as a single particle, heralding research on the so-called fifth matter.
However, it wasn’t until June 1995 that scientists created the world’s first BEC by cooling a gas of about 2,000 rubidium atoms.
A BEC consists of a cloud of hundreds of thousands of rubidium atoms, mostly from gases, cooled to temperatures more than a billion times colder than freezing.
Image confirming the successful creation of the BEC, from left to right, as the atoms are cooled to near absolute zero and behave as a single mechanical entity
At these temperatures, atoms are close to absolute zero, or the point at which atoms stop moving.
But just above absolute zero, atoms take on a different property and fuse into a single quantum object, which can detect very low magnetic fields.
The Quantum Systems & Devices research group at the University of Sussex, just outside Brighton, is conducting experiments aimed at using a BEC as a magnetic sensor.
“We use multiple carefully timed laser and radio wave cooling steps to prepare rubidium gases at these ultra-low temperatures,” said Professor Krüger.
“This requires precise computer control of laser light, magnets and electric currents in microchips based on vigilant monitoring of environmental conditions in the laboratory, while no one can be there in person.”
Just before the lockdown measures required those who can work from home to do so, the researchers set up a 2D magnetic optical trap, a strange-looking set of metal devices that use lasers and magnets to produce trapped atoms.
Dr. Gadge installed the lasers that control the atoms in the university’s quantum lab before shutting them down
Dr. Gadge was able to make the complex calculations and perform the sequence from her home by accessing the lab computers remotely.
“The research team observes the lock and works from home, which is why we haven’t had access to our labs for weeks,” she said.
“The process was much slower than if I had been in the lab, because the experiment is unstable and I have to cool down 10 to 15 minutes between each run.
Obviously, this is not as efficient and much more laborious to do manually as I have not been able to perform systematic scans or correct instability as I could work in the lab.
An atomic trap was used to make a Bose-Einstein condensate, in another experiment launched from Kiruna in Sweden. Bose-Einstein condensates (BECs) were predicted by Satyendra Nath Bose and Albert Einstein between 1924 and 1925, but the technology needed to create them is only just emerging
“But we were determined to keep our research going, so we explored new ways to conduct our experiments remotely.”
Trapped cold quantum gases are driven to create highly accurate and precise sensors to detect and study new materials, geometries and devices.
The research team is developing their sensors for use in areas such as electric vehicle batteries, touchscreens, solar cells and medical advances such as brain imaging.
The team has also spent the past nine months working on having a second laboratory with a BEC running consistently as part of a wider project to develop a new type of magnetic microscopy and other quantum sensors.
Sussex is part of the UK National Quantum Computer Network, established in 2013 with the mission to commercialize the first universal quantum computer.
The university published its blueprint for building a quantum computer in 2017, in Scientific progress.
Last October, Google claimed to have made a breakthrough in quantum computing with a processor that performs a calculation in minutes that would take classic computers 10,000 years.
However, Google’s major rivals in quantum technology research, including IBM, objected to Google’s claim that it had achieved the so-called act of ‘quantum supremacy’ – problem solving that no classic machine can do.
IBM, working on its own quantum computer design, argued that the task of generating random numbers performed by Google’s ‘Sycamore’ quantum computer is technically feasible on a classic computer – after 10,000 years of processing.
“Because the original meaning of the term quantum supremacy, as proposed by John Preskill in 2012, was to describe the point where quantum computers can do things that classical computers cannot, this threshold was not met,” IBM researchers wrote in a blog post.
Professor Winfried Hensinger, director of the Sussex Center for Quantum Technologies, said Laboratory news at the time: “The problem they have [Google] chosen is a completely useless problem – the next step is to solve useful problems. ‘
WHAT IS A QUANTUM COMPUTER AND HOW DOES IT WORK?
The key to a quantum computer is the ability to operate based on a circuit that is not only ‘on’ or ‘off’, but at the same time occupies a state that is both ‘on’ and ‘off’.
While this may seem strange, it is due to the laws of quantum mechanics, which determine the behavior of the particles that make up an atom.
On this microscale, matter works in ways that would be impossible on the macroscale of the universe in which we live.
Quantum mechanics allows these extremely small particles to exist in multiple states, known as ‘superposition’, until they are seen or disturbed.
A scanning tunneling microscope shows a quantum bit of a phosphorus atom positioned precisely in silicon. Scientists have discovered how to get the qubits to talk to each other
A good analogy is that of a coin spinning in the air. It cannot be said to be a “head” or “tail” until it lands.
The heart of modern computers is binary code, which has served computers for decades.
While a classic computer has ‘bits’ consisting of zeros and ones, a quantum computer has ‘qubits’ that can take the value zero or one or even both.
One of the major stumbling blocks to the development of quantum computers has been shown to be able to defeat classic computers.
Google, IBM and Intel are among the competing companies to achieve this.