Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Self-assembling nanoparticle arrays can switch between a mirror and a window



By finely tuning the distance between nanoparticles in a single layer, researchers have made a filter that can change between a mirror and a window.

The development could help scientists create special materials whose optical properties can be changed in real time. These materials could then be used for applications from tuneable optical filters to miniature chemical sensors.

Creating a 'tuneable' material - one which can be accurately controlled - has been a challenge because of the tiny scales involved. In order to tune the optical properties of a single layer of nanoparticles - which are only tens of nanometres in size each - the space between them needs to be set precisely and uniformly.

To form the layer, the team of researchers from Imperial College London created conditions for gold nanoparticles to localise at the interface between two liquids that do not mix. By applying a small voltage across the interface, the team have been able to demonstrate a tuneable nanoparticle layer that can be dense or sparse, allowing for switching between a reflective mirror and a transparent surface. The research is published today in Nature Materials.

Study co-author Professor Joshua Edel, from the Department of Chemistry at Imperial, said: "It's a really fine balance - for a long time we could only get the nanoparticles to clump together when they assembled, rather than being accurately spaced out. But many models and experiments have brought us to the point where we can create a truly tuneable layer."

The distance between the nanoparticles determines whether the layer permits or reflects different wavelengths of light. At one extreme, all the wavelengths are reflected, and the layer acts as a mirror. At the other extreme, where the nanoparticles are dispersed, all wavelengths are permitted through the interface and it acts as a window.

In contrast to previous nanoscopic systems that used chemical means to change the optical properties, the team's electrical system is reversible.



Study co-author Professor Alexei Kornyshev, from the Department of Chemistry at Imperial, said: "Finding the correct conditions to achieve reversibility required fine theory; otherwise it would have been like searching for a needle in a haystack. It was remarkable how closely the theory matched experimental results."

Co-author Professor Anthony Kucernak, also from the Department of Chemistry, commented: "Putting theory into practice can be difficult, as one always has to be aware of material stability limits, so finding the correct electrochemical conditions under which the effect could occur was challenging."

Professor Kornyshev added: "The whole project was only made possible by the unique knowhow and abilities and enthusiasm of the young team members, including Dr Yunuen Montelongo and Dr Debarata Sikdar, amongst others who all have diverse expertise and backgrounds."

Electrotunable nanoplasmonic liquid mirror
Yunuen Montelongo, Debabrata Sikdar, Ye Ma, Alastair J. S. McIntosh, Leonora Velleman, Anthony R. Kucernak,    Joshua B. Edel & Alexei A. Kornyshev
Nature Materials (2017) doi:10.1038/nmat4969


High-speed quantum memory for photons


Physicists from the University of Basel have developed a memory that can store photons. These quantum particles travel at the speed of light and are thus suitable for high-speed data transfer. The researchers were able to store them in an atomic vapor and read them out again later without altering their quantum mechanical properties too much. This memory technology is simple and fast and it could find application in a future quantum Internet. The journal Physical Review Letters has published the results.

Even today, fast data transfer in telecommunication networks employs short light pulses. Ultra broadband technology uses optical fiber links through which information can be transferred at the speed of light. At the receiver's end, the transmitted information has to be stored quickly and without errors so that it can be processed further electronically on computers. To avoid transmission errors, each bit of information is encoded in relatively strong light pulses that each contain at least several hundreds of photons.

For several years, researchers all over the world have been working on operating such networks with single photons. Encoding one bit per photon is not only very efficient, but it also allows for a radically new form of information processing based on the laws of quantum physics. These laws allow a single photon to encode not only the states 0 or 1 of a classic bit, but also to encode a superposition of both states at the same time. Such quantum bits are the basis for quantum information processing that could make unconditionally secure communication and super fast quantum computers possible in the future. The ability to store and retrieve single photons from a quantum memory is a key element for these technologies, which is intensively investigated.

Simple and fast

A team of physicists led by the professors Philipp Treutlein and Richard Warburton from the University of Basel has now developed a particularly simple and fast quantum memory that stores photons in a gas of rubidium atoms. A laser controls the storage and retrieval processes. The technology used does not require cooling devices or complicated vacuum equipment and can be implemented in a highly compact setup. The researchers were also able to verify that the memory has a very low noise level and is suitable for single photons.

One step closer to the quantum internet

"The combination of a simple setup, high bandwidth and low noise level is very promising for future application in quantum networks," says Janik Wolters, first author of the study. The development of such quantum networks is one of the goals of the National Center of Competence in Quantum Science and Technology (NCCR QSIT) and of the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation that have funded this study. In the future, quantum networks could lead to unconditionally secure communication, the networking of different quantum computers and the simulation of complex physical, chemical and biological systems.

Simple Atomic Quantum Memory Suitable for Semiconductor Quantum Dot Single Photons
Janik Wolters, Gianni Buser, Andrew Horsley, Lucas Béguin, Andreas Jöckel, Jan-Philipp Jahn, Richard J. Warburton, and Philipp Treutlein
Phys. Rev. Lett. 119, 060502 – Published 8 August 2017

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

MIT scientists find weird quantum effects, even over hundreds of miles



Neutrinos traveling 450 miles have no individual identities, according to MIT analysis.

In the world of quantum, infinitesimally small particles, weird and often logic-defying behaviors abound. Perhaps the strangest of these is the idea of superposition, in which objects can exist simultaneously in two or more seemingly counterintuitive states. For example, according to the laws of quantum mechanics, electrons may spin both clockwise and counter-clockwise, or be both at rest and excited, at the same time.

The physicist Erwin Schrödinger highlighted some strange consequences of the idea of superposition more than 80 years ago, with a thought experiment that posed that a cat trapped in a box with a radioactive source could be in a superposition state, considered both alive and dead, according to the laws of quantum mechanics. Since then, scientists have proven that particles can indeed be in superposition, at quantum, subatomic scales. But whether such weird phenomena can be observed in our larger, everyday world is an open, actively pursued question.

Now, MIT physicists have found that subatomic particles called neutrinos can be in superposition, without individual identities, when traveling hundreds of miles. Their results, to be published later this month in Physical Review Letters, represent the longest distance over which quantum mechanics has been tested to date. 

A subatomic journey across state lines

The team analyzed data on the oscillations of neutrinos — subatomic particles that interact extremely weakly with matter, passing through our bodies by the billions per second without any effect. Neutrinos can oscillate, or change between several distinct “flavors,” as they travel through the universe at close to the speed of light.

The researchers obtained data from Fermilab’s Main Injector Neutrino Oscillation Search, or MINOS, an experiment in which neutrinos are produced from the scattering of other accelerated, high-energy particles in a facility near Chicago and beamed to a detector in Soudan, Minnesota, 735 kilometers (456 miles) away. Although the neutrinos leave Illinois as one flavor, they may oscillate along their journey, arriving in Minnesota as a completely different flavor.

The MIT team studied the distribution of neutrino flavors generated in Illinois, versus those detected in Minnesota, and found that these distributions can be explained most readily by quantum phenomena: As neutrinos sped between the reactor and detector, they were statistically most likely to be in a state of superposition, with no definite flavor or identity.
What’s more, the researchers  found that the data was “in high tension” with more classical descriptions of how matter should behave. In particular, it was statistically unlikely that the data could be explained by any model of the sort that Einstein sought, in which objects would always embody definite properties rather than exist in superpositions.

“What’s fascinating is, many of us tend to think of quantum mechanics applying on small scales,” says David Kaiser, the Germeshausen Professor of the History of Science and professor of physics at MIT. “But it turns out that we can’t escape quantum mechanics, even when we describe processes that happen over large distances. We can’t stop our quantum mechanical description even when these things leave one state and enter another, traveling hundreds of miles. I think that’s breathtaking.”

Kaiser is a co-author on the paper, which includes MIT physics professor Joseph Formaggio, junior Talia Weiss, and former graduate student Mykola Murskyj.

A flipped inequality

The team analyzed the MINOS data by applying a slightly altered version of the Leggett-Garg inequality, a mathematical expression named after physicists Anthony Leggett and Anupam Garg, who derived the expression to test whether a system with two or more distinct states acts in a quantum or classical fashion.

Leggett and Garg realized that the measurements of such a system, and the statistical correlations between those measurements, should be different if the system behaves according to classical versus quantum mechanical laws.

“They realized you get different predictions for correlations of measurements of a single system over time, if you assume superposition versus realism,” Kaiser explains, where “realism” refers to models of the Einstein type, in which particles should always exist in some definite state.

Formaggio had the idea to flip the expression slightly, to apply not to repeated measurements over time but to measurements at a range of neutrino energies. In the MINOS experiment, huge numbers of neutrinos are created at various energies, where Kaiser says they then “careen through the Earth, through solid rock, and a tiny drizzle of them will be detected” 735 kilometers away.

According to Formaggio’s reworking of the Leggett-Garg inequality, the distribution of neutrino flavors — the type of neutrino that finally arrives at the detector — should depend on the energies at which the neutrinos were created. Furthermore, those flavor distributions should look very different if the neutrinos assumed a definite identity throughout their journey, versus if they were in superposition, with no distinct flavor.

“The big world we live in”

Applying their modified version of the Leggett-Garg expression to neutrino oscillations, the group predicted the distribution of neutrino flavors arriving at the detector, both if the neutrinos were behaving classically, according to an Einstein-like theory, and if they were acting in a quantum state, in superposition. When they compared both predicted distributions, they found there was virtually no overlap.

More importantly, when they compared these predictions with the actual distribution of neutrino flavors observed from the MINOS experiment, they found that the data fit squarely within the predicted distribution for a quantum system, meaning that the neutrinos very likely did not have individual identities while traveling over hundreds of miles between detectors.

But what if these particles truly embodied distinct flavors at each moment in time, rather than being some ghostly, neither-here-nor-there phantoms of quantum physics? What if these neutrinos behaved according to Einstein’s realism-based view of the world? After all, there could be statistical flukes due to defects in instrumentation, that might still generate a distribution of neutrinos that the researchers observed. Kaiser says if that were the case and “the world truly obeyed Einstein’s intuitions,” the chances of such a model accounting for the observed data would be “something like one in a billion.”  

So how do neutrinos do it? How do they maintain a quantum, identityless state for seemingly long distances? André de Gouvêa, professor of physics and astronomy at Northwestern University, says because neutrinos move so fast and interact with so little in the world, “relativistic effects — as in Einstein’s special theory of relativity —are huge, and conspire to make the very long distances appear [to the neutrinos] short.”

“The final result is that, like all other tests performed to date under very different circumstances, quantum mechanics appears to be the correct description of the world at all distance scales, weirdness not withstanding,” says Gouvêa, who was not involved in the research.

“What gives people pause is, quantum mechanics is quantitatively precise and yet it comes with all this conceptual baggage,” Kaiser says. “That’s why I like tests like this: Let’s let these things travel further than most people will drive on a family road trip, and watch them zoom through the big world we live in, not just the strange world of quantum mechanics, for hundreds of miles. And even then, we can’t stop using quantum mechanics. We really see quantum effects persist across macroscopic distances.”