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Scientists use atomic clocks as quantum simulators

Posted: 21 Aug 2013     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:atomic clocks  quantum simulators  supercomputer 

According to researchers at the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics (JILA)—a joint venture of the University of Colorado, Boulder, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), atomic clocks used as quantum simulators outperform conventional computer models.

In a recent demonstration, JILA/NIST Fellow Jun Ye claimed that this is the first time that atomic clocks have been successfully used as simulators for quantum phenomena, potentially enabling them to mimic the behaviour of quantum systems that are much more complicated than even the fastest supercomputer can simulate. Ye speculated that by refining the technique, atomic clocks could someday plumb the mysteries of quantum phenomena that are unexplained today, such as the lack of resistance in high-temperature superconductors.

In its demonstration, Ye and colleagues at JILA used an atomic clock that houses 2,000 strontium atoms in a trap formed by intersecting laser beams. For their clock function, the atoms are divided into 20 layers of 100 atoms each. Normally a laser is used to put the atoms in a known spin state—up, down, or a superposition of both—and the atoms are not supposed to interact with each other in adjacent layers. However, the researchers found that using a certain combination of ultra-fast laser pulses allows small groups of atoms—about 30—to interact with those in adjacent layers as if they were exhibiting the quantum behaviour of a magnetic material.

Funding was provided by NIST, the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, National Science Foundation, and Army Research Office.

- R. Colin Johnson
  EE Times

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