Using a laser to place individual rubidium atoms near the surface of a lattice of light, scientists at MIT and Harvard University have developed a new method for connecting particles — one that could help in the development of powerful quantum computing systems.
The new technique, described in a paper published today in the journal Nature, allows researchers to couple a lone atom of rubidium, a metal, with a single photon, or light particle. This allows both the atom and photon to switch the quantum state of the other particle, providing a mechanism through which quantum-level computing operations could take place.
Moreover, the scientists believe their technique will allow them to increase the number of useful interactions occurring within a small space, thus scaling up the amount of quantum computing processing available.
“This is a major advance of this system,” says Vladan Vuletić, a professor in MIT’s Department of Physics and Research Laboratory for Electronics (RLE), and a co-author of the paper. “We have demonstrated basically an atom can switch the phase of a photon. And the photon can switch the phase of an atom.”
That is, photons can have two polarization states, and interaction with the atom can change the photon from one state to another; conversely, interaction with the photon can change the atom’s phase, which is equivalent to changing the quantum state of the atom from its “ground” state to its “excited” state. In this way the atom-photon coupling can serve as a quantum switch to transmit information — the equivalent of a transistor in a classical computing system. And by placing many atoms within the same field of light, the researchers may be able to build networks that can process quantum information more effectively.
“You can now imagine having several atoms placed there, to make several of these devices — which are only a few hundred nanometers thick, 1,000 times thinner than a human hair — and couple them together to make them exchange information,” Vuletić adds.