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Scientists have discovered atomic “breathing” – a new way to encode and transmit quantum information

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Scientists have discovered atomic “breathing” – a new way to encode and transmit quantum information

Researchers have created an integrated device that can control atomic vibrations and light emissions.

Quantum technology is a field of science that uses the properties of quantum mechanics to create new devices and applications in computing, communications, sensors, and other fields. However, the implementation of a quantum network requires reliable methods for creating, operating, storing and transmitting quantum information. Researchers at the University of Washington have taken an important step in this direction by discovering atomic “breathing,” a mechanical vibration between two layers of atoms that can help encode and transmit quantum information in the form of light. They also created an integrated device that can control these atomic vibrations and light emissions. Their results were published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

“This is a new atomic platform using what the scientific community calls “optomechanics,” in which light and mechanical motion are intertwined,” said senior author Mo Li, a professor of electrical and computer science and physics at the University of Washington. “It provides a new type of quantum effect that can be used to control single photons passing through integrated optical circuits for many applications.”

At the heart of this platform is a quasiparticle called an exciton. This is the state of matter that occurs when an electron of an atom is thrown away from the nucleus by laser light and leaves behind a positively charged hole. An exciton can be used to encode and transmit quantum information in the form of a photon, a tiny particle of energy considered to be the quantum unit of light. The quantum properties of each emitted photon – such as polarization, wavelength, and/or emission time – can serve as a quantum bit of information, or a “qubit”.

The researchers worked with excitons in diatomic layers of tungsten diselenide, a material with unique optical and electronic properties. They found that an exciton does not always emit a photon in the same way. Its radiation depends on how two layers of atoms interact with each other. It turned out that between the two layers of atoms there is a mechanical vibration, which scientists called atomic “breathing”. This “breathing” affects how the exciton emits a photon.

“We found that these two layers of atoms breathe together as one,” Li said. “This breath is sound at the atomic level. And we can control it with laser light.”

The team also created an integrated device that can control this atomic breath and light emissions. They placed two layers of tungsten diselenide on a thin silicon wafer that has a series of optical cavities, structures that can amplify or modify light. They also connected electrodes to a silicon wafer to deliver an electrical current.

“We can use electric current to control the rate of atomic breathing,” Ripin said. “We can also use optical cavities to control the frequency and intensity of the light emitted by the exciton.”

The developed device can be useful for various applications of quantum technologies, such as quantum computing, communications, and sensors. For example, it can be used to create a quantum switch or logic element that can change the state of a photon depending on the state of another photon.

“We have created a new type of building block for quantum technology,” Li said. “It can be integrated with other elements on the same platform and work together.”

The study was supported by the US National Science Foundation and the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.



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