Improving Sensors with Quantum Sound Waves

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Applications of quantum physics are life-changing. Quantum physics can offer profound shifts to numerous global sectors. Computers and smartphones, lasers and telecommunications, atomic clocks and GPS and medical imaging such as MRI are all dependent on quantum physics to operate.

The full potential of quantum has yet to be realized. However, whilst scientists have been making huge steps forward in their understanding of it and are growing their abilities in harnessing its powers to build revolutionary systems, they are still struggling to apply quantum to mechanical systems. A large portion of modern technology uses systems with moving parts, mechanical systems, but up until recently, scientists have struggled to successfully incorporate quantum into these systems.

New Mechanical System Controls Sound Waves at the Quantum Level

A breakthrough was made at the Institute for Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory, where scientists successfully connected quantum circuits to acoustic waves. The team built a mechanical system that can control sound waves at the quantum level. The system, essentially a tiny echo chamber, connects sound waves to quantum circuits in order to control them. The impact of this advancement is huge because for the first time a quantum system has been successfully intertwined with a mechanical one.

The accomplishment that the team has made is a big step beyond anything that has been achieved before. Experts see that successfully having the two technologies communicating with each other opens the door to numerous quantum applications, some of which we know about and others that will be discovered.

One application, in particular, that is shrouded in much interest in using this integration between quantum and mechanical systems to devise precise quantum sensors that would have capabilities far beyond sensors that are currently available. With quantum, sensors would have the ability to detect even the tiniest of vibrations and they would be capable of communicating with individual atoms.

The sense of force or displacement is the cornerstone of many modern sensors. Mechanical systems are the easiest to build in order to measure these kinds of movements, and with the added power of quantum, the capabilities of these sensors would explode.

A Potential Way to Create Ultra-Sensitive Sensors

What has been achieved at the University of Chicago and Argonne offers a way to create ultra-sensitive sensors. The research focused in part on investigating linking quantum electrical circuits to devices that generate surface acoustic waves, tiny sound waves that travel along the surface of a material and play essential roles in devices such as phones, radio receivers, and garage door openers. The team built the two systems separately and connected them together, meaning that each component was optimized but could also talk with the other. To function properly, the temperature of both systems were kept just a fraction above absolute zero.

Scientists are excited because these results have opened the door to achieving things with sound that have already been accomplished with light. What’s interesting is that because sound moves slower than light, you essentially have more time to manipulate it. Take, for example, memory storage, in theory, the sound could hold quantum information in a memory for longer than light could.

The system that has been created gives researchers the opportunity to solve fundamental unanswered questions about the behavior of sound waves within the quantum realm.

Sensors Based on Quantum Sound Waves

In the near future, we could see the development of highly sensitive sensors that rely on this innovation that applies quantum to mechanical systems through quantum sound waves. We would see sensors based on quantum sound waves that can measure all manner of factors, such as those that we currently rely on light for. Much more investigation is needed in this area, however, it is without a doubt that this innovation will help to create better sensors in the future.


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Sarah Moore

Written by

Sarah Moore

After studying Psychology and then Neuroscience, Sarah quickly found her enjoyment for researching and writing research papers; turning to a passion to connect ideas with people through writing.


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