Photo:  On the right, an artificial atom generates sound waves consisting of ripples on the surface of a solid. The sound, known as a surface acoustic wave (SAW) is picked up on the left by a “microphone” composed of interlaced metal fingers. According to theory, the sound consists of a stream of quantum particles, the weakest whisper physically possible. Note: the illustration is not to scale. Philip Krantz, Krantz NanoArt

Quantum optics research has extensively demonstrated the interaction between light and atoms. Similar research using sound, however, has proven less successful – until now. Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology are breaking new ground in the science of atomic communication. Teamed up with theoretical and experimental physicists, Chalmers researchers succeeded in coupling acoustic waves with an artificial atom.

Per Delsing explains, “We have opened a new door into the quantum world by talking and listening to atoms. Our long term goal is to harness quantum physics so that we can benefit from its laws, for example in extremely fast computers. We do this by making electrical circuits which obey quantum laws, that we can control and study.”

Surface acoustic waves (SAWs) were used for this research study, visible as ripples on the surface of a solid. The project was conducted at extremely low temperatures (near zero) in order to preserve the atom. The experimental design required that an atom both emit and absorb sound energy. According to Martin Gustafsson, the sound from the atom is divided into quantum particles – the weakest sound that can be detected.

Because sound travels as a slower pace than light, this research could be the beginning to vast new discovery in quantum science.

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Detailed results from this study can be found in the journal Science.


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