German research brings us one step closer to quantum computing
An EU-funded team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Germany have made important steps in the journey towards large-scale quantum computing and the simulation of condensed-matter systems, following new discoveries about the manipulation of atoms. Their findings are presented in a study published in the journal Nature.
The research was supported by the AQUTE ('Atomic quantum technologies') and the NAME-QUAM ('Nanodesigning of atomic and molecular quantum matter') projects, which are both funded under the 'Information and communication technologies' Thematic area of the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). Additional EU funding also came from two Marie Curie Fellowships to members of the research team.
With the help of a laser beam, the scientists could address single atoms in a lattice of light and change their spin state. They managed to exert total control over individual atoms and 'write' arbitrary two-dimensional patterns.
The laser-cooled rubidium atoms were loaded into an artificial crystal of light, created by superimposing several laser beams together. They were then kept in the lattice of light in a manner described by the team as being akin to keeping marbles in the hollows of an egg carton. The lattice of light slightly deforms the electron shell of an atom and as a result changes the energy difference between its two spin states.
By taking advantage of the versatility of ultracold atoms in optical lattices, the researchers were able to bring a high level of control to the experiment. The scientists demonstrated how such control can be implemented at the most fundamental level of a single spin at a specific site of an optical lattice.
Starting from an arrangement of 16 atoms that were strung together on neighbouring lattice sites like a necklace of beads, the scientists studied what happens when the height of the lattice is ramped down so far that the particles are allowed to 'tunnel' according to the rules of quantum mechanics. The results show that they move from one lattice site to the other, even if their energy is not sufficient to cross the barrier between the lattice wells.
By stringing the atoms along a line they were able to directly observe their tunnelling dynamics in what could be described as a 'racing duel' of atoms. 'As soon as the height of the lattice has reached the point where tunnelling is possible, the particles start running as if they took part in a horse-race,' described researcher Christof Weitenberg.
'By taking snapshots of the atoms in the lattice at different times after the "starting signal", we could directly observe the quantum mechanical tunnelling-effect of single massive particles in an optical lattice for the first time.'
This research builds on previous work carried out by the team. Several months ago they showed that each site of the optical lattice can be filled with exactly one atom. Now they have succeeded in individually addressing each atom in the lattice and changing its energy state. 'We have shown that we can individually address single atoms. In order for the atom to suit as a quantum bit, we need to generate coherent superpositions of its two spin states,' explains researcher Stefan Kuhr. 'A further step is to realise elementary logical operations between two selected atoms in the lattice, so-called quantum gates.'
The overall objectives of the AQUTE project are to develop quantum technologies based on atomic, molecular and optical (AMO) systems for both scalable quantum computation and entanglement-enabled technologies like metrology and sensing. The project also hopes to establish and exploit new interdisciplinary connections coming from AMO physics.
Similarly, the NAME-QUAM project investigates ultra-cold atom/molecule quantum matter technology for quantum information computational tasks. The aim of the project is to develop novel techniques for quantum engineering and quantum control of ultra-cold atoms and molecules confined in the periodic nano-structures.
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Document Reference: Weitenberg, C., et al. (2011) Single-Spin Addressing in an Atomic Mott Insulator. Nature 471, 319. DOI: 10.1038/nature09827.
Subject Index: Information and communication technology applications ; Information Processing, Information Systems; Innovation, Technology Transfer; Scientific Research