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Artificial Atoms Make Microwave Photons Countable

Photonics.com
Feb 2007
NEW HAVEN, Conn., Feb. 2, 2007 -- Using artificial atoms on a chip, physicists have taken the next step toward quantum computing by demonstrating that the particle nature of microwave photons can now be detected.

Quantum theories are often considered to apply best to processes that happen on the smallest scale of atoms and molecules. By making artificial atoms larger -- to a size that is nearly visible -- and using microwaves as the source of energy, the collaborative research from the laboratory of professor Robert Schoelkopf and the theory group of professor Steven Girvin in the departments of Applied Physics and Physics at Yale University created an electronic circuit that stores and measures individual microwave photons. In the process, they bring quantum mechanics to a larger scale and hope to employ it to build new kinds of quantum machines.ArtificalAtoms.jpg
Scanning electron micrograph of an artificial atom (light blue) inside of a transmission line cavity (dark blue). The "atom," composed of over a billion atoms of aluminum, gives a distinct signal for each possible photon number in the cavity. The theoretical prediction (color plot) was verified by these experiments. (Image: Schuster/Yale)
"The radiation from a microwave oven or cell phone does not seem to have much in common with light, but like its visible counterpart, microwaves are made of individual photons," said Schoelkopf. "A single microwave photon is quite large, extending over one centimeter in length, and yet has one hundred thousand times less energy than even a visible photon. Unlike a camera, which absorbs the light it detects, our measurement preserves the photons for later use."

"Such manipulation of single microwave photons is an important step towards realizing a quantum computer, which could exponentially speed up computations of difficult problems in cryptography, quantum physics and chemistry," said Paul Fleury, dean of Yale Engineering and director of the Yale Institute of Nanoscience and Quantum Engineering.

"Much like the children's game 'telephone,' current solid-state quantum computing schemes can only make nearest-neighbor interactions. This forces distant quantum bits (qubits) to communicate by passing through many intermediates causing errors," said David Schuster, a graduate student who completed this work in January as part of his thesis. "Single microwave photons can be used as mobile carriers of quantum information allowing distant qubits to communicate directly, avoiding these problems."

The measurements they made represent the next step in circuit quantum electrodynamics, a field introduced by the same groups at Yale in 2004 to study quantum optics with microwaves using integrated circuits. According to Girvin, the detector they designed works "as if we made an antenna on an atom." Their results demonstrate that microwaves are particles because the system gives a response representing a discrete number of interactions of the microwave with the atom.

In addition to circuits, microwaves interact with a variety of physical systems, including atomic spins, molecules, and even nuclei. Single microwave photons can act as a bridge between these naturally occurring quantum systems and fabricated electrical circuits, resulting in a hybrid processor of quantum information. The next phase of the work, according to the scientists, is to connect multiple "atoms" using the photons to transfer the information between them.

The research is featured in the Feb. 1 issue of the journal Nature; Schuster was lead author of the study. The work was supported by funds from the National Security Agency under the Army Research Office, the National Science Foundation, the W. M. Keck Foundation, a Yale University Quantum Information and Mesoscopic Physics Fellowship and Yale University.

For more information, visit: www.yale.edu


GLOSSARY
cell
1. A single unit in a device for changing radiant energy to electrical energy or for controlling current flow in a circuit. 2. A single unit in a device whose resistance varies with radiant energy. 3. A single unit of a battery, primary or secondary, for converting chemical energy into electrical energy. 4. A simple unit of storage in a computer. 5. A limited region of space. 6. Part of a lens barrel holding one or more lenses.
electrodynamics
The study of the generation of electromagnetic power by radiation from high-energy beams.
microwave
An electromagnetic wave lying within the region of the frequency spectrum that is between about 1000 MHz (1 GHz) and 100,000 MHz (100 GHz). This is equivalent to the wavelength spectrum that is between one millimeter and one meter, and is also referred to as the infrared and short wave spectrum.
photon
A quantum of electromagnetic energy of a single mode; i.e., a single wavelength, direction and polarization. As a unit of energy, each photon equals hn, h being Planck's constant and n, the frequency of the propagating electromagnetic wave. The momentum of the photon in the direction of propagation is hn/c, c being the speed of light.
photonics
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
quantum
Smallest amount into which the energy of a wave can be divided. The quantum is proportional to the frequency of the wave. See photon.
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