Available online 20 September 2010.
Researchers around the world are working on the development of quantum computers that will be vastly superior to present-day computers. Here, the strong coupling of quantum bits with light quanta plays a pivotal role. Professor Rudolf Gross, a physicist at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM), and his team of researchers have now realized an extremely strong interaction between light and matter that may represent a first step in this direction. [Niemczyk et al., Nature Phys (2010), doi: 10.1038/NPHYS1730].
The interaction between matter and light represents one of the most fundamental processes in physics. Whether a car that heats up like an oven in the summer due to the absorption of light quanta or solar cells that extract electricity from light or light-emitting diodes that convert electricity into light, we encounter the effects of these processes throughout our daily lives. Understanding the interactions between individual light particles – photons – and atoms is crucial for the development of a quantum computer.
Physicists from the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM), the Walther-Meissner-Institute for Low Temperature Research of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences (WMI) and the Augsburg University have now, in collaboration with partners from Spain, realized an ultrastrong interaction between microwave photons and the atoms of a nano-structured circuit. The realized interaction is ten times stronger than levels previously achieved for such systems.
The simplest system for investigating the interactions between light and matter is a so-called cavity resonator with exactly one light particle and one atom captured inside (cavity quantum electrodynamics, cavity QED). Yet since the interaction is very weak, these experiments are very elaborate. A much stronger interaction can be obtained with nano-structured circuits in which metals like aluminum become superconducting at temperatures just above absolute zero (circuit QED). Properly configured, the billions of atoms in the merely nanometer thick conductors behave like a single artificial atom and obey the laws of quantum mechanics. In the simplest case, one obtains a system with two energy states, a so-called quantum bit or qubit.
Coupling these kinds of systems with microwave resonators has opened a rapidly growing new research domain in which the TUM Physics, the WMI and the cluster of excellence Nanosystems Initiative Munich (NIM) are leading the field.