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Freezing single atoms to absolute zero with microwaves brings quantum technology closer

Atoms frozen to absolute zero using microwaves

University of Sussex

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IMAGE: Winfried Hensinger (right) and Dr. Seb Weidt are freezing individual atoms using microwaves. view more

Credit: University of Sussex

Physicists at the University of Sussex have found a way of using everyday technology found in kitchen microwaves and mobile telephones to bring quantum physics closer to helping solve enormous scientific problems that the most powerful of today's supercomputers cannot even begin to embark upon.

A team led by Professor Winfried Hensinger has frozen single charged atoms to within a millionth of a degree of absolute zero (minus 273.15°C) with the help of microwave radiation. This technique will simplify the construction of 'quantum technology devices' including powerful quantum sensors, ultra-fast quantum computers, and ultra-stable quantum clocks. Quantum technologies make use of highly strange and counterintuitive phenomena predicted by the theory of quantum physics.

The report "Ground-state cooling of a trapped ion using long-wavelength radiation" was published in Physical Review Letters this week: Here

"The use of long-wavelength radiation instead of laser technology to cool ions can tremendously simplify the construction of practical quantum technology devices enabling us to build real devices much faster," said Professor Hensinger.

Once quantum technology is harnessed into practical devices it has the potential to completely change everyday life again - just as computers have already done. Quantum technologies may one day revolutionise our understanding of science answering open questions of biology and solving the origin of the universe and other puzzles as well as allowing for a revolution in sensing, time keeping and communications.

"By taking advantage of simple well developed technology we have be able to create a remarkably robust and simple method, which is expected to provide a stepping stone for this technology to be integrated into a breadth of different quantum technologies spanning from quantum computers to highly sensitive quantum sensors," said Professor Hensinger.

Freezing atoms puts them into the lowest possible energy and is a step towards harnessing the strange effects of quantum physics, which allow objects to exist in different states at the same time. "Besides finding an easy way to create atoms with zero-point energy, we have also managed to put the atom into a highly counter intuitive state: where it is both moving and not moving at the same time," said Professor Hensinger.

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Professor Hensinger's team, consisting of postdoctoral fellows Dr Seb Weidt, Dr Simon Webster, Dr Bjoern Lekitsch along with PhD students Joe Randall, Eamon Standing, Anna Rodriguez and Anna Webb, developed this new method as part of their effort to build a microwave ion trap quantum computer at the University of Sussex.

Figure caption: Professor. Winfried Hensinger and Dr Seb Weidt in front of the experiment freezing individual atoms using microwaves.

Notes to Editors

'Ground-state cooling of a trapped ion using long-wavelength radiation ', by S. Weidt, J. Randall, S. C. Webster, E. D. Standing, A. Rodriguez, A. E. Webb, B. Lekitsch, W. K. Hensinger, is published in Physical Review Letters [Phys. Rev. Lett. 115, 013002 (2015)]. Here Link:

The Sussex Ion Quantum Technology Group is part of the UK Quantum Technology Hub on Networked Quantum Information Technologies and the UK Quantum Technology Hub for Sensors and Metrology bringing together universities and industry to develop and construct new quantum technologies.

A short film about Professor. Hensinger's work can be found here.

University of Sussex Press office contact: Peta Fluendy. Tel: 01273 678 888. Email: press@sussex.ac.uk

Founded in 1961, the University of Sussex is among the leading research universities in the UK, with 98 per cent of its research rated as world leading, internationally excellent or internationally recognised (REF 2014). The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2014 rank Sussex as 14th in the UK, 43rd in Europe and 111th in the world.

The University of Sussex has more than 13,000 students and 2,200 staff, from more than 120 countries. The University has counted among its faculty three Nobel Prize winners, 13 Fellows of the Royal Society, six Fellows of the British Academy and a winner of the prestigious Crafoord Prize.

International in its outlook and interdisciplinary in its approach, Sussex is based on a single campus, designed by Sir Basil Spence, in rolling parkland between the seaside city of Brighton and Hove and the South Downs National Park. Sussex research tackles major world issues, with leading areas of expertise such as climate change and development studies.

Ground-state cooling of a trapped ion using long-wavelength radiation ', by S. Weidt, J. Randall, S. C. Webster, E. D. Standing, A. Rodriguez, A. E. Webb, B. Lekitsch, W. K. Hensinger, is published in Physical Review Letters [Phys. Rev. Lett. 115, 013002 (2015)].

The Sussex Ion Quantum Technology Group is part of the UK Quantum Technology Hub on Networked Quantum Information Technologies and the UK Quantum Technology Hub for Sensors and Metrology bringing together universities and industry to develop and construct new quantum technologies.

A short film about Professor. Hensinger's work can be found here

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