Physics

Molecules wrangled into single quantum state in breakthrough experiment

Molecules wrangled into single...
A microscope image of the molecular Bose-Einstein condensate
A microscope image of the molecular Bose-Einstein condensate
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A microscope image of the molecular Bose-Einstein condensate
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A microscope image of the molecular Bose-Einstein condensate
Professor Cheng Chin in the lab
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Professor Cheng Chin in the lab

Quantum technology is bursting with potential, but controlling atoms and molecules keeps proving tricky. In a breakthrough new study, physicists have successfully wrangled thousands of molecules into a single unified quantum state for the first time.

The key to the new development is a strange state of matter known as a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC). When a low density cloud of atoms is cooled to just a hair above absolute zero, they settle into the same quantum state. In essence, they begin to act like one giant atom, which brings hard-to-measure quantum behavior up to the macro scale where it can be observed more easily.

But to realize the most intriguing applications of quantum technology, scientists will need to master more complex molecules, which themselves are made up of atoms. And now, researchers at the University of Chicago have succeeded in doing just that.

“Atoms are simple spherical objects, whereas molecules can vibrate, rotate, carry small magnets,” says Cheng Chin, senior author of the study. “Because molecules can do so many different things, it makes them more useful, and at the same time much harder to control.”

Professor Cheng Chin in the lab
Professor Cheng Chin in the lab

To wrestle molecules into cooperating, the team added two new steps to the normal recipe for producing Bose-Einstein condensates. First, they chilled the system down even colder than usual – to just 10 nanokelvins, an absolutely tiny fraction above 0 K. That helped more of the atoms pair up into molecules.

Then, they confined these molecules into a flat surface, so they can only move in two dimensions, which helps keep them stable for longer. The end result is a 2D molecular Bose-Einstein condensate, made up of several thousand molecules with exactly the same orientation and vibrational frequency. This, the team says, could then be used for a range of quantum applications.

“It’s the absolute ideal starting point,” says Chin. “For example, if you want to build quantum systems to hold information, you need a clean slate to write on before you can format and store that information.”

The research was published in the journal Nature.

Source: University of Chicago

1 comment
Techrex
If they are using laser beams to convey Quantum data transmission, there might be a new kind of meta-material to experiment with, that we overlooked. In the Reese Witherspoon movie, "Sweet Home Alabama", a recurring prop in the movie story was these glass spheres, that resembled the classical seer's crystal balls, that were 'Lightning Fulgerite Glass Orbs'. A fulgerite is a fused earth object, that is created by lightning bolts hitting the ground, which look like a kind of dirty glass tree root section. But, the most powerful lightning bolts, that hit the Florida beaches sands, can create these 'Shocked Glass' spheres, unlike the usual lightning fulgerite-root shape. These unique glass orbs, CANNOT be duplicated in the laboratory, only the enormous voltage of a big lightning bolt hitting sand can create them. So, what if the scientists researching quantum laser data transmission, obtain these glass orbs, and just PLAYED with them in their laboratories, shoot the lasers through them, etc., to see if that can give us some new empirical data about doing that?