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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 Hair
Closer to Teleportation
By Richard Adhikari
12/20/10 6:00 AM PT
The journal Science has awarded a team of UC Santa
Barbara scientists its Breakthrough of the Year honor
for their work in quantum mechanics. The team's
experiment showed that quantum mechanics theory
applies to relatively massive objects -- this case, an
object about the size of a human hair. Though practical applications are a
long way off, the work has interesting implications.
A quantum mechanics experiment performed by physicists at the University of California in
Santa Barbara has been honored by the journal Science as its Breakthrough of the Year.
The researchers' work may shed light on just what actually gravity is, among other things.
UC Santa Barbara researchers Andrew Cleland, Aaron
O'Connell, and John Martinis
The team, led by Andrew Cleland, showed that a relatively large object's reactions can be
predicted by quantum mechanics theory.
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"The real impact of our experiment is more in the foundations of physics in the sense that
it helps show quantum mechanics still applies to large objects," Cleland told
"If you can do quantum mechanical experiments with objects that are big enough, you
could see what effect gravity has on a quantum mechanical system."
Although gravitation is the weakest of four fundamental forces, or interactions, that make
up every physical phenomenon, it's has several unique features, one of them being that it
has infinite range.
About the Experiment
Cleland's team, which consisted of himself, fellow physicist John Martinis and doctoral
student Aaron O'Connell, basically took a microwave frequency mechanical resonator and
wired it to a superconducting qubit, then cooled the whole thing to near absolute zero and
zapped it with a little energy to see what would happen.
They then took this resonator and put it in a quantum superposition, a state in which it
simultaneously had zero and one quantum of excitation. Energetically, this is the same as
being in two places at the same time.
A qubit is a bit of quantum information. Like a bit in computing, it can have two possible
values -- a 0 or a 1. Unlike a bit, it can be 0, 1 or both together, which is called a
A superposition is a quantum mechanical property of a particle that lets it occupy all its
possible quantum states simultaneously. The particle can be thought of as omnipresent in
its superposition, if you like.
A superconducting qubit results when you use nanofabricated superconducting electrodes
coupled through Josephson junctions.
A Josephson junction consists of a thin layer of non-superconducting material between two
layers of superconducting material. Think of it as a ham sandwich without mayo, butter or
condiments. Superconducting qubits go right through the non-superconducting material.
Cleland's team cooled its gadget to its lowest-energy state, in this case zero. This is called
the "ground state."
What Happened
"We got a dilution refrigerator; it's a piece of commercial apparatus that anybody can buy
for a couple of hundred thousand dollars," Cleland said. "It'll cool a few kilos of copper to
about two hundredths of a degree above zero."
His team then cooled the resonator to its quantum ground state, then applied one
quantum unit, or phonon, of energy.
A phonon is a quantum mechanical description of a vibration in which a lattice uniformly
oscillates at one frequency, known as the "normal mode."
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Cleland's team then measured the result with "classical equipment," Cleland said. The
resonator has a resonance frequency of 6 GHz, and the energy exchange rate was
100MHz, Cleland stated.
The team had to do this repeatedly in order to get and verify its results.
"One of the features of quantum mechanics is that, when you do a measurement, you
destroy the state that was prepared," Cleland explained. "We prepped the system,
measured, then recorded the measurement on a state that was prepared identically
thousands of times."
Possible Uses for the Discovery
Cleland's team made its discovery while it was trying to build a quantum computer.
Quantum mechanics directly use quantum mechanical phenomena such as superposition
and entanglement to work on data. Entanglement is a state in which two or more objects
have their quantum states linked together so that you have to describe both and can't
describe either on its own.
Cleland's team also might use it in quantum communications, wherein quantum
information is encoded into invisible light.
Quantum information has no analog in standard information theory. The quantum nature
of systems must be preserved in order to process information in a quantum computer or
to distribute a secret key in quantum cryptography.
Quantum communications might be used in teleportation.
However, Cleland's vision is a little more down-to-earth, in a sense -- in the nearer future,
the results of the experiment might help physicists better understand gravity.
"Quantum mechanics works really well for small objects like atoms and electrons," Cleland
said. "But for large mechanical systems, there's not been any good demonstrations, and
there's been this question as to whether quantum mechanics really applies to big
mechanical things."
Even though the object used in the experiment was the size of a human hair, it was still "a
trillion times bigger" than those used in previous experiments. It shows that the laws of
quantum mechanics apply to relatively large objects.
Widespread, practical application of this kind of research is still a long way off, Rob
Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld. "It's to prove
quantum theories and build up a base of knowledge so that more complex and more
practical applications can be derived."
Eventually, products made using this knowledge might relate to near-instant
communications over long distances, new sources of energy, and more efficient use of
energy, Enderle stated.
"We are at the stage where we're looking to see if it's possible to walk," Enderle remarked.
"Then we have to figure out how to walk; then actually walk. Running is the goal."
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Short of a major breakthrough, we're 20 to 50 years away from mass-market products
based on advances in quantum mechanics, Enderle said.
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07/01/2011 http://www.technewsworld.com/story/2010s-Breakthrough-of-the-Year-Brings-Us-a-...
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