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2Physics Quote:
"Today’s most precise time measurements are performed with optical atomic clocks, which achieve a precision of about 10-18, corresponding to 1 second uncertainty in more than 15 billion years, a time span which is longer than the age of the universe... Despite such stunning precision, these clocks could be outperformed by a different type of clock, the so called “nuclear clock”... The expected factor of improvement in precision of such a new type of clock has been estimated to be up to 100, in this way pushing the ability of time measurement to the next level."
-- Lars von der Wense, Benedict Seiferle, Mustapha Laatiaoui, Jürgen B. Neumayr, Hans-Jörg Maier, Hans-Friedrich Wirth, Christoph Mokry, Jörg Runke, Klaus Eberhardt, Christoph E. Düllmann, Norbert G. Trautmann, Peter G. Thirolf
(Read Full Article: "Direct Detection of the 229Th Nuclear Clock Transition"

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Theory of Quantum Mechanics Applies to the Motion of Large Objects

(L to R) Andrew Cleland, Aaron O'Connell and John Martinis [photo credit: George Foulsham / Univ of California, Santa Barbara]

A team of physicists from University of California, Santa Barbara has provided the first clear demonstration that the theory of quantum mechanics applies to the mechanical motion of an object large enough to be seen by the naked eye. Their work satisfies a longstanding goal among physicists.

In a paper published in the March 17 issue of the advance online journal Nature [1], Aaron O'Connell, a doctoral student in physics, and John Martinis and Andrew Cleland, professors of physics, describe the first demonstration of a mechanical resonator that has been cooled to the quantum ground state, the lowest level of vibration allowed by quantum mechanics. With the mechanical resonator as close as possible to being perfectly still, they added a single quantum of energy to the resonator using a quantum bit (qubit) to produce the excitation. The resonator responded precisely as predicted by the theory of quantum mechanics.

"This is an important validation of quantum theory, as well as a significant step forward for nanomechanics research," said Cleland.

The researchers reached the ground state by designing and constructing a microwave-frequency mechanical resonator that operates similarly to –– but at a higher frequency than –– the mechanical resonators found in many cellular telephones. They wired the resonator to an electronic device developed for quantum computation, a superconducting qubit, and cooled the integrated device to temperatures near absolute zero. Using the qubit as a quantum thermometer, the researchers demonstrated that the mechanical resonator contained no extra vibrations. In other words, it had been cooled to its quantum ground state.

Micrograph of the resonator

The researchers demonstrated that, once cooled, the mechanical resonator followed the laws of quantum mechanics. They were able to create a single phonon, the quantum of mechanical vibration, which is the smallest unit of vibrational energy, and watch as this quantum of energy exchanged between the mechanical resonator and the qubit. While exchanging this energy, the qubit and resonator become "quantum entangled," such that measuring the qubit forces the mechanical resonator to "choose" the vibrational state in which it should remain.

In a related experiment, they placed the mechanical resonator in a quantum superposition, a state in which it simultaneously had zero and one quantum of excitation. This is the energetic equivalent of an object being in two places at the same time. The researchers showed that the resonator again behaved as expected by quantum theory.

A. D. O’Connell, M. Hofheinz, M. Ansmann, Radoslaw C. Bialczak, M. Lenander, Erik Lucero, M. Neeley, D. Sank, H. Wang, M. Weides, J. Wenner, John M. Martinis & A. N. Cleland, "Quantum ground state and single-phonon control of a mechanical resonator", Nature advance online publication 17 March 2010 [doi:10.1038/nature08967].

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