Every summer, fireflies light up the night sky searching for their mates, but something interesting happens when the number of fireflies in a given area reaches a certain density – their flashes synchronize. Rather than isolated flashing, each glowing firefly in a swarm luminesces together. This kind of naturally occurring synchronization has physicists interested in how to replicate the phenomena at the quantum level using atoms and light.
With potential implications for network synchronization over fiber optic and wireless channels, like how a smartphone can connect to a laptop, or even improve electrical power systems, the ability to create synchronization is the aim of a new research project led through the University of Oklahoma’s Homer L. Dodge Department of Physics and Astronomy and the Center for Quantum Research and Technology. The CQRT is housed in Lin Hall, OU’s newest academic building and one of only a few buildings in the world to meet the requirements of the National Institute of Standards and Technology on vibrations, temperature and humidity, as well as electromagnetic interference.
The three-year project is funded through a $1 million grant from the WM Keck Foundation and is led by Professor Doerte Blume, Ph.D. Blume is working with CQRT researchers Grant Biedermann, Ph.D., and Alberto Marino, Ph.D., with the support of postdoctoral researchers and graduate and undergraduate students, to develop quantum synchronization and quantum organization, combining both theory and experimentation. The project involves multiple experimental approaches, one using optical tweezers and one involving quantum light.
Blume is providing the theoretical expertise that underpins the project’s multiple experimental approaches, one using optical tweezers and one involving quantum light. She is also leading the network modeling that will attempt to bridge these experimental approaches.
Within the last decade, the field of quantum research has advanced to a state where it is possible to contain and control a single atom in what’s known as an optical tweezer, a technique that uses a highly focused laser beam to hold and manipulate something as small as an atom
“We’re trying to synchronize the motion of atoms among neighboring tweezers … by coupling them together with electric fields,” Biedermann said. “No one’s really explored this type of synchronization. The types of synchronization between these atoms and the resulting structures that you can create in this abstract space are vast.”
What most of us think of as light, physicists think of as photons. Quantum technology aims to control light at the level of individual photons.
“One of the things that we’re trying to do by combining Alberto’s research with my own is to experiment with ways of using quantum light to control these atoms and their motion, instead of just using traditional light,” Biedermann said. “Alberto has this fantastic capability of creating quantum light, and that further increases the complexity of the tapestry that we can create.”
Using an ensemble of cold atoms, Marino is focusing on using the internal properties of the atoms to achieve synchronization.
“Using quantum light, what we hope to do is to enhance the synchronization process between the atoms,” Marino said. “Some of the capabilities we have in my lab are the ability to generate the quantum light in a way that it can effectively interact with the atoms that we’re using and that’s something that will be critical for being able to use the quantum light to enhance synchronization.”
Blume says the ultimate goal is to develop a quantum network. By creating couplings between the spins of two atoms side-by-side and coupling the motion of another set of atoms, the physicists hope to better understand how collective interactions emerge.
“In the end, we want all these things –spin, motion, and light – to interact and be at play at the same time,” Blume said. “Another goal is to synchronize different degrees of freedom, their spin and motional degrees of freedom, and really model the complexity that you find in nature, but at the quantum level.”
About the University of Oklahoma Office of the Vice President for Research and Partnerships
The University of Oklahoma is a leading research university classified by the Carnegie Foundation in the highest tier of research universities in the nation. Faculty, staff and students at OU are tackling global challenges and accelerating the delivery of practical solutions that impact society in direct and tangible ways through research and creative activities. OU researchers expand foundational knowledge while moving beyond traditional academic boundaries, collaborating across disciplines and globally with other research institutions as well as decision makers and practitioners from industry, government and civil society to create and apply solutions for a better world. Find out more at ou.edu/research.
About the W.M. Keck Foundation
The W. M. Keck Foundation was established in 1954 in Los Angeles by William Myron Keck, founder of The Superior Oil Company. One of the nation’s largest philanthropic organizations, the W. M. Keck Foundation supports outstanding science, engineering, and medical research. The Foundation also supports undergraduate education and maintains a program within Southern California to support arts and culture, education, health and community service projects.
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