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Published by: david.zitta368 on Jan 07, 2011
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2010's Breakthrough of the Year Brings Us a HairCloser to Teleportation
By Richard AdhikariTechNewsWorld12/20/10 6:00 AM PT
The journal
has awardeda team of UC SantaBarbara scientists its Breakthrough of the Year honorfortheir work in quantum mechanics. The team'sexperiment showed that quantummechanics theoryapplies to relatively massive objects --this case, anobjectabout the size of a human hair. Though practical applications are along wayoff, the work has interesting implications.
A quantum mechanics experiment performed byphysicists at theUniversity ofCalifornia inSanta Barbarahas been honored by the journal
as its Breakthrough of the Year.The researchers' work may shed light on justwhat actually gravity is, among other things.UC Santa Barbara researchers Andrew Cleland, AaronO'Connell, and John MartinisThe team, led by AndrewCleland, showed that a relatively large object's reactions can bepredicted byquantum mechanics theory.
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"The real impact of our experiment is more inthe foundations of physics in the sense thatit helps show quantum mechanicsstill applies to large objects," Cleland toldTechNewsWorld."If you cando quantum mechanical experiments with objects that are big enough, youcouldsee what effect gravity has on a quantum mechanical system."Althoughgravitation is the weakest of four fundamental forces, or interactions, thatmakeup every physical phenomenon, it's has several unique features, one of thembeing that ithas infinite range.
About the Experiment
Cleland's team, which consisted ofhimself, fellow physicist John Martinis and doctoralstudent Aaron O'Connell,basically took a microwave frequency mechanical resonator andwired it to asuperconductingqubit, then cooled the whole thing to near absolute zero andzapped it with a little energy to see what would happen.They then tookthis resonator and put it in a quantum superposition, a state in which itsimultaneously had zero and one quantum of excitation. Energetically, this isthe same asbeing in two places at the same time.A qubit is a bit ofquantum information. Like a bit in computing, it can have two possiblevalues --a 0 or a 1. Unlike a bit, it can be 0, 1 or both together, which is called a"superposition."A superposition is a quantum mechanical property of aparticle that lets it occupy all itspossible quantum states simultaneously. Theparticle can be thought of as omnipresent inits superposition, if youlike.A superconducting qubit results when you use nanofabricatedsuperconducting electrodescoupled throughJosephson junctions.A Josephson junction consists of athin layer of non-superconducting material between twolayers of superconductingmaterial. Think of it as a ham sandwich without mayo, butter orcondiments.Superconducting qubits go right through the non-superconductingmaterial.Cleland's team cooled its gadget to its lowest-energy state, inthis case zero. This is calledthe "ground state."
"We got a dilution refrigerator; it's a piece of commercialapparatus that anybody can buyfor a couple of hundred thousand dollars,"Cleland said. "It'll cool a few kilos of copper toabout two hundredths of adegree above zero."His team then cooled the resonator to its quantumground state, then applied onequantum unit, or phonon, of energy.Aphonon is a quantum mechanical description of a vibration in which a latticeuniformlyoscillates at one frequency, known as the "normalmode."
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Cleland's team then measured the result with "classical equipment,"Cleland said. Theresonator has a resonance frequency of 6 GHz, and the energyexchange rate was100MHz, Cleland stated.The team had to do thisrepeatedly in order to get and verify its results."One of the features ofquantum mechanics is that, when you do a measurement, youdestroy the state thatwas prepared," Cleland explained. "We prepped the system,measured, thenrecorded the measurement on a state that was prepared identicallythousands oftimes."
Possible Uses for the Discovery
Cleland'steam made its discovery while it was trying to build a quantum computer.Quantum mechanics directly use quantum mechanical phenomena such assuperpositionand entanglement to work on data. Entanglement is a state in whichtwo or more objectshave their quantum states linked together so that you haveto describe both and can'tdescribe either on its own.Cleland's team alsomight use it in quantum communications, wherein quantuminformation is encodedinto invisible light.Quantum information has no analog in standardinformation theory. The quantum natureof systems must be preserved in order toprocess information in a quantum computer orto distribute a secret key inquantum cryptography.Quantum communications might be used inteleportation.However, Cleland's vision is a littlemore down-to-earth, in a sense --in the nearer future,the results of theexperiment might help physicists better understand gravity."Quantummechanics works really well for small objects like atoms and electrons," Clelandsaid. "But for large mechanical systems, there's not been any gooddemonstrations, andthere's been this question as to whether quantum mechanicsreally applies to bigmechanical things."Even though the object used inthe experiment was the size of a human hair, it was still "atrillion timesbigger" than those used in previous experiments. It shows that the laws of quantum mechanics apply to relatively large objects.Widespread, practicalapplication of this kind of research is still a long way off, RobEnderle,principal analyst at theEnderle Group, told TechNewsWorld. "It'sto provequantum theories and build up a base of knowledge so that more complexand morepractical applications can be derived."Eventually, products madeusing this knowledge might relate to near-instantcommunications over longdistances, new sources of energy, and more efficient use of energy, Enderlestated."We are at the stage where we're looking to see if it's possibleto walk," Enderle remarked."Then we have to figure out how to walk; thenactually walk. Running is the goal."
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