UMD CMNS Physics S1 Color

Novel gate may enhance power of Majorana-based quantum computers

Quantum computers hold great potential, but they remain hard to build because their basic components—individual quantum systems like atoms, electrons or photons—are fragile. A relentless and noisy background constantly bombards the computer’s data.

One promising theoretical approach, known as topological quantum computing, uses groups of special particles confined to a plane to combat this environmental onslaught. The particles, which arise only in carefully crafted materials, are held apart from each other so that the information they store is spread out in space. In this way, information is hidden from its noisy environment, which tends to disrupt small regions at a time. Such a computer would perform calculations by moving the particles around one another in a plane, creating intricate braids with the paths they trace in space and time.

Although evidence for these particles has been found in experiments, the most useful variety found so far appear only at the ends of tiny wires and cannot easily be braided around one another. Perhaps worse for the prospect of quantum computing is that these particles don’t support the full power of a general quantum computer—even in theory.

Now, researchers at JQI and the Condensed Matter Theory Center (CMTC) at the University of Maryland, including JQI Fellows Sankar Das Sarma and Jay Deep Sau, have proposed a way to dispense with both of these problems. By adding an extra process beyond ordinary braiding, they discovered a way to give a certain breed of topological particles all the tools needed to run any quantum calculation, all while circumventing the need for actual braiding. The team described their proposal last month in Physical Review X.

Read More

Oscillating currents point to practical application for topological insulators

Scientists studying an exotic material have found a potential application for its unusual properties, a discovery that could improve devices found in most digital electronics.

Under the right conditions the material, a compound called samarium hexaboride, is a topological insulator—something that conducts electricity on its surface but not through its interior. The first examples of topological insulators were only recently created in the lab, and their discovery has sparked a great deal of theoretical and experimental interest.

Now, a team of physicists at JQI and the University of California, Irvine, may have found a use for tiny crystals of samarium hexaboride. When pumped with a small but constant electric current and cooled to near absolute zero, the crystals can produce a current that oscillates. The frequency of that oscillation can be tuned by changing the amount of pump current or the crystal size. Read More

Measuring the Magnetization of Wandering Spins

The swirling field of a magnet—rendered visible by a sprinkling of iron filings—emerges from the microscopic behavior of atoms and their electrons. In permanent magnets, neighboring atoms align and lock into place to create inseparable north and south poles. For other materials, magnetism can be induced by a field strong enough to coax atoms into alignment.

In both cases, atoms are typically arranged in the rigid structure of a solid, glued into a grid and prevented from moving. But the team of JQI Fellow Ian Spielman has been studying the magnetic properties of systems whose tiny constituents are free to roam around—a phenomenon called “itinerant magnetism."

“When we think of magnets, we usually think of some lattice,” says graduate student Ana Valdés-Curiel. Now, in a new experiment, Valdés-Curiel and her colleagues have seen the signatures of itinerant magnetism arise in a cold cloud of rubidium atoms.

The team mapped out the magnetic properties of their atomic cloud, probing the transition between unmagnetized and magnetized phases. Using interfering lasers, the researchers dialed in magnetic fields and observed the atoms’ responses. The experiment, which was the first to directly observe magnetic properties that result from the particles’ motion, was reported March 30 in Nature Communications. Read More

Rogue rubidium leads to atomic anomaly

The behavior of a few rubidium atoms in a cloud of 40,000 hardly seems important. But a handful of the tiny particles with the wrong energy may cause a cascade of effects that could impact future quantum computers.

Some proposals for quantum devices use Rydberg atoms—atoms with highly excited electrons that roam far from the nucleus—because they interact strongly with each other and offer easy handles for controlling their individual and collective behavior. Rubidium is one of the most popular elements for experimenting with Rydberg physics.

Now, a team of researchers led by JQI Fellows Trey Porto, Steven Rolston and Alexey Gorshkov have discovered an unwanted side effect of trying to manipulate strongly interacting rubidium atoms: When they used lasers to drive some of the atoms into Rydberg states, they excited a much larger fraction than expected. The creation of too many of these high-energy atoms may result from overlooked “contaminant” states and could be problematic for proposals that rely on the controlled manipulation of Rydberg atoms to create quantum computers. The new results were published online March 16 in Physical Review Letters.

Read More