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September 14, 2014 AT 2:00 am

Scientists Have Captured the Sound One Atom Makes

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Researchers say they have captured the sound of a single moving atom.

Researchers at Columbia University and Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology say that they have, for the first time, “captured” the sound a single atom makes when it moves around—a single “phonon,” as it were. It’s an achievement that could eventually be used as the basic science for new quantum computing devices.

Like everyone is taught in elementary school, anytime something moves or vibrates, it makes a sound. Scientists now know for sure that that principle extends down to the lowly atom.

“The sound amplitude, or strength, is very weak,” said Göran Johansson, a co-author of the paper published today in Science. “Basically, when you excite the atom, it creates a sound, one phonon at a time, according to theory. It’s the weakest possible sound possible at the frequency [that it vibrates].”

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