Quantum clouds in my coffee

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If there is one thing that fuels science researchers, it’s an unwavering dedication to their craft. If there are two things, it’s unwavering dedication — and a metric ton of caffeine creating a feedback loop of calculated madness and scientific discovery.

In fact, caffeine’s history is incomplete without mention of its (purported) direct link to advancements; it is often cited for kickstarting the Enlightenment period in Europe, which commenced along with the increased presence of coffeehouses in 17th century cities.

Really, it ought to come as no surprise that researchers would take such a significant distinguisher and turn it into an analogy for quantum computing.

Courtesy of Moreno Perez.

Courtesy of Moreno Perez.

The (overly) caffeinated researchers in this case, who are not so vain as to believe this advancement is (solely) about them, were led by University of Colorado associate professor of physics Rahul Nandkishore. The group used mathematics to show the possibility that materials can be created that remain out of equilibrium for long periods of time in quantum chips. According to the researchers, the work is poised to lead to new ways to store information in incredibly tiny objects.

The analogy, Nandkishore explains, compares the chip to the coffee and the information to the creamer. When creamer is added to coffee, it creates a swirling cloud of white floating in the cup until it eventually incorporates fully into the coffee. Similarly, qubits added to a computer chip can initially be put into a desired order to store information. But they can also become easily mixed up if flipped all to the same form — either a zero, one, or two.

According to the researchers, this can be mitigated by stuffing the qubits into a tight spot, creating a situation in which the tightly packed qubits start to influence the behavior of their neighbors. In this way, the qubits’ forms will not be able to be changed easily due to a lack of space, essentially creating a pattern of trapped qubits that will flow around a quantum computer chip and never degrade.

While testing to see if the method is applicable, or even feasible, remains forthcoming, such a discovery could also affect the laws of physics.

Just as any morning cup of joe eventually cools from the heat of the liquid slowly transferring into the colder surrounding air, the world tends to want to move to a state of thermal equilibrium. This also explains why the cream eventually disperses and mixes into the milk.

Nandkishore and his team’s findings, however, join a growing body of research that suggests that some small organizations of matter can resist the equilibrium and theoretically break some of the most immutable laws of the universe.

So, whether the method works outside of their dreams, functions better in algorithmic form, or incinerates the universe, the researchers will at least take a consolation prize of getting to mix work and stimulants for more than just a morning pick-me-up.

The research was published in Physical Review Letters (

Published: April 2024
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