Tag Archives: mechanics

Researchers use engineered viruses to provide quantum-based enhancement of energy transport:MIT Research

Quantum physics meets genetic engineering

Researchers use engineered viruses to provide quantum-based enhancement of energy transport.

By David Chandler


 

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.–Nature has had billions of years to perfect photosynthesis, which directly or indirectly supports virtually all life on Earth. In that time, the process has achieved almost 100 percent efficiency in transporting the energy of sunlight from receptors to reaction centers where it can be harnessed — a performance vastly better than even the best solar cells.

One way plants achieve this efficiency is by making use of the exotic effects of quantum mechanics — effects sometimes known as “quantum weirdness.” These effects, which include the ability of a particle to exist in more than one place at a time, have now been used by engineers at MIT to achieve a significant efficiency boost in a light-harvesting system.

Surprisingly, the MIT researchers achieved this new approach to solar energy not with high-tech materials or microchips — but by using genetically engineered viruses.

This achievement in coupling quantum research and genetic manipulation, described this week in the journal Nature Materials, was the work of MIT professors Angela Belcher, an expert on engineering viruses to carry out energy-related tasks, and Seth Lloyd, an expert on quantum theory and its potential applications; research associate Heechul Park; and 14 collaborators at MIT and in Italy.

Lloyd, a professor of mechanical engineering, explains that in photosynthesis, a photon hits a receptor called a chromophore, which in turn produces an exciton — a quantum particle of energy. This exciton jumps from one chromophore to another until it reaches a reaction center, where that energy is harnessed to build the molecules that support life.

But the hopping pathway is random and inefficient unless it takes advantage of quantum effects that allow it, in effect, to take multiple pathways at once and select the best ones, behaving more like a wave than a particle.

This efficient movement of excitons has one key requirement: The chromophores have to be arranged just right, with exactly the right amount of space between them. This, Lloyd explains, is known as the “Quantum Goldilocks Effect.”

That’s where the virus comes in. By engineering a virus that Belcher has worked with for years, the team was able to get it to bond with multiple synthetic chromophores — or, in this case, organic dyes. The researchers were then able to produce many varieties of the virus, with slightly different spacings between those synthetic chromophores, and select the ones that performed best.

In the end, they were able to more than double excitons’ speed, increasing the distance they traveled before dissipating — a significant improvement in the efficiency of the process.

The project started from a chance meeting at a conference in Italy. Lloyd and Belcher, a professor of biological engineering, were reporting on different projects they had worked on, and began discussing the possibility of a project encompassing their very different expertise. Lloyd, whose work is mostly theoretical, pointed out that the viruses Belcher works with have the right length scales to potentially support quantum effects.

In 2008, Lloyd had published a paper demonstrating that photosynthetic organisms transmit light energy efficiently because of these quantum effects. When he saw Belcher’s report on her work with engineered viruses, he wondered if that might provide a way to artificially induce a similar effect, in an effort to approach nature’s efficiency.

“I had been talking about potential systems you could use to demonstrate this effect, and Angela said, ‘We’re already making those,’” Lloyd recalls. Eventually, after much analysis, “We came up with design principles to redesign how the virus is capturing light, and get it to this quantum regime.”

Within two weeks, Belcher’s team had created their first test version of the engineered virus. Many months of work then went into perfecting the receptors and the spacings.

Once the team engineered the viruses, they were able to use laser spectroscopy and dynamical modeling to watch the light-harvesting process in action, and to demonstrate that the new viruses were indeed making use of quantum coherence to enhance the transport of excitons.

“It was really fun,” Belcher says. “A group of us who spoke different [scientific] languages worked closely together, to both make this class of organisms, and analyze the data. That’s why I’m so excited by this.”

While this initial result is essentially a proof of concept rather than a practical system, it points the way toward an approach that could lead to inexpensive and efficient solar cells or light-driven catalysis, the team says. So far, the engineered viruses collect and transport energy from incoming light, but do not yet harness it to produce power (as in solar cells) or molecules (as in photosynthesis). But this could be done by adding a reaction center, where such processing takes place, to the end of the virus where the excitons end up.

The research was supported by the Italian energy company Eni through the MIT Energy Initiative. In addition to MIT postdocs Nimrod Heldman and Patrick Rebentrost, the team included researchers at the University of Florence, the University of Perugia, and Eni.

Source:MIT News Office

A cartoon illustration of a levitated drop of superfluid helium. A single photon circulating inside the drop (red arrow) will be used to produce the superposition. The drop's gravitational field (illustrated schematically in the background) may play a role in limiting the lifetime of such a superposition.

Credit: Yale News

Opening a window on quantum gravity

Yale University has received a grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation to fund experiments that researchers hope will provide new insights into quantum gravity. Jack Harris, associate professor of physics, will lead a Yale team that aims to address a long-standing question in physics — how the classical behavior of macroscopic objects emerges from microscopic constituents that obey the laws of quantum mechanics.

Very small objects like photons and electrons are known for their odd behavior. Thanks to the laws of quantum mechanics, they can act as particles or waves, appear in multiple places at once, and mysteriously interact over great distances. The question is why these behaviors are not observed in larger objects.

A cartoon illustration of a levitated drop of superfluid helium. A single photon circulating inside the drop (red arrow) will be used to produce the superposition. The drop's gravitational field (illustrated schematically in the background) may play a role in limiting the lifetime of such a superposition. Credit: Yale News
A cartoon illustration of a levitated drop of superfluid helium. A single photon circulating inside the drop (red arrow) will be used to produce the superposition. The drop’s gravitational field (illustrated schematically in the background) may play a role in limiting the lifetime of such a superposition.
Credit: Yale News

Scientists know that friction plays an important part in producing classical behavior in macroscopic objects, but many suspect that gravity also suppresses quantum effects. Unfortunately, there has been no practical way to test this possibility, and in the absence of a full quantum theory of gravity, it is difficult even to make any quantitative predictions.

To address this problem, Harris will create a novel instrument that will enable a drop of liquid helium to exhibit quantum mechanical effects. “A millimeter across,” Harris said, “our droplet will be five orders of magnitude more massive than any other object in which quantum effects have been observed. It will enable us to explore quantum behavior on unprecedentedly macroscopic scales and to provide the first experimental tests of leading models of gravity at the quantum level.”

Game-changing research

The W.M. Keck Foundation grant will fund five years of activity at the Harris lab, which is part of Yale’s Department of Physics. In the first year, Harris and his team will construct their apparatus, and in subsequent years they will use it to perform increasingly sophisticated experiments.

“We are extremely grateful to the W.M. Keck Foundation for this generous support,” said Steven Girvin, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Physics and deputy provost for research. “This is a forward-looking grant that will advance truly ground-breaking research.”

Girvin, whose own research interests include quantum computing, described the Harris project as a possible game-changer. “Truly quantum mechanical behaviors have been observed in the flight of molecules through a vacuum and in the flow of electrons through superconductive circuits, but nothing has been accomplished on this scale. If Jack succeeds, this would be the first time that an object visible to the naked eye has bulk motion that exhibits genuine quantum mechanical effects.”

Into the whispering gallery

To explain his project, Harris invokes an architectural quirk of St. Paul’s cathedral, a London landmark with a famous “whispering gallery.” High up in its main dome, a whisper uttered against one wall is easily audible at great distances, as the sound waves skim along the dome’s interior. Harris plans to create his own whispering gallery, albeit on a smaller scale, using a droplet of liquid helium suspended in a powerful magnetic field. Rather than sound waves, Harris’ gallery will bounce a single photon.

This approach is closely related to an idea proposed by Albert Einstein in the 1920s, but until now, it has remained beyond the technical capabilities of experimentalists. To complete the experiment, Harris will need to combine recent advances in three different areas of physics: the study of optical cavities (objects that can capture photons), magnetic levitation, and the strange, frictionless world of superfluid helium. “Superfluid liquid helium has particular properties, like absence of viscosity and near-absence of optical absorption,” Harris explained. “In our device, a drop of liquid helium will be made to capture a single photon, which will bounce around inside. We expect to see the drop respond to the photon. “A photon always behaves quantum mechanically,” he added. “If you have a macroscopic object — our helium drop — that responds appreciably to a photon, the quantum mechanical behavior can be transferred to the large object. Our device will be ideally suited to studying quantum effects in the drop’s motion.” Potential applications for Harris’ research include new approaches to computing, cryptography, and communications. But Harris is most excited about the implications for fundamental physics: “Finding a theory of quantum gravity has been an outstanding challenge in physics for several decades, and it has proceeded largely without input from experiments. We hope that our research can provide some empirical data in this arena.”

About the W.M. Keck Foundation

The W.M. Keck Foundation was established in 1954 by William Myron Keck, founder of the Superior Oil Company. The foundation supports pioneering research in science, engineering, and medicine and has provided generous funding for numerous research initiatives at Yale University. In 2014, the Keck Foundation awarded a separate grant to a team of scientists led by Corey O’Hern, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Yale, to explore the physics of systems composed of macro-sized particles. Source : Yale News

The first ever photograph of light as both a particle and wave

Light behaves both as a particle and as a wave. Since the days of Einstein, scientists have been trying to directly observe both of these aspects of light at the same time. Now, scientists at EPFL have succeeded in capturing the first-ever snapshot of this dual behavior.

ight behaves both as a particle and as a wave. Since the days of Einstein, scientists have been trying to directly observe both of these aspects of light at the same time. Now, scientists at EPFL have succeeded in capturing the first-ever snapshot of this dual behavior. Credit:EPFL
ight behaves both as a particle and as a wave. Since the days of Einstein, scientists have been trying to directly observe both of these aspects of light at the same time. Now, scientists at EPFL have succeeded in capturing the first-ever snapshot of this dual behavior.
Credit:EPFL

Quantum mechanics tells us that light can behave simultaneously as a particle or a wave. However, there has never been an experiment able to capture both natures of light at the same time; the closest we have come is seeing either wave or particle, but always at different times. Taking a radically different experimental approach, EPFL scientists have now been able to take the first ever snapshot of light behaving both as a wave and as a particle. The breakthrough work is published in Nature Communications.

When UV light hits a metal surface, it causes an emission of electrons. Albert Einstein explained this “photoelectric” effect by proposing that light – thought to only be a wave – is also a stream of particles. Even though a variety of experiments have successfully observed both the particle- and wave-like behaviors of light, they have never been able to observe both at the same time. 

 Alternate Link on YTPAK: http://www.ytpak.com/?component=video&task=view&id=UQ-qseLBnxc

A new approach on a classic effect

A research team led by Fabrizio Carbone at EPFL has now carried out an experiment with a clever twist: using electrons to image light. The researchers have captured, for the first time ever, a single snapshot of light behaving simultaneously as both a wave and a stream of particles particle.

The experiment is set up like this: A pulse of laser light is fired at a tiny metallic nanowire. The laser adds energy to the charged particles in the nanowire, causing them to vibrate. Light travels along this tiny wire in two possible directions, like cars on a highway. When waves traveling in opposite directions meet each other they form a new wave that looks like it is standing in place. Here, this standing wave becomes the source of light for the experiment, radiating around the nanowire.

This is where the experiment’s trick comes in: The scientists shot a stream of electrons close to the nanowire, using them to image the standing wave of light. As the electrons interacted with the confined light on the nanowire, they either sped up or slowed down. Using the ultrafast microscope to image the position where this change in speed occurred, Carbone’s team could now visualize the standing wave, which acts as a fingerprint of the wave-nature of light.

While this phenomenon shows the wave-like nature of light, it simultaneously demonstrates its particle aspect as well. As the electrons pass close to the standing wave of light, they “hit” the light’s particles, the photons. As mentioned above, this affects their speed, making them move faster or slower. This change in speed appears as an exchange of energy “packets” (quanta) between electrons and photons. The very occurrence of these energy packets shows that the light on the nanowire behaves as a particle.

“This experiment demonstrates that, for the first time ever, we can film quantum mechanics – and its paradoxical nature – directly,” says Fabrizio Carbone. In addition, the importance of this pioneering work can extend beyond fundamental science and to future technologies. As Carbone explains: “Being able to image and control quantum phenomena at the nanometer scale like this opens up a new route towards quantum computing.”

This work represents a collaboration between the Laboratory for Ultrafast Microscopy and Electron Scattering of EPFL, the Department of Physics of Trinity College (US) and the Physical and Life Sciences Directorate of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The imaging was carried out EPFL’s ultrafast energy-filtered transmission electron microscope – one of the two in the world.

Reference

Piazza L, Lummen TTA, Quiñonez E, Murooka Y, Reed BW, Barwick B, Carbone F.Simultaneous observation of the quantization and the interference pattern of a plasmonic near-field. Nature Communications 02 March 2015. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms7407

Source: EPFL

Quantum physics breakthrough: Scientists solve 100-year-old puzzle

Two fundamental concepts of the quantum world are actually just different manifestations of the same thing, says Waterloo researcher.

By Jenny Hogan

Centre for Quantum Technologies


A Waterloo researcher is part of an international team that has proven that two peculiar features of the quantum world – long thought to be distinct – are actually different manifestations of the same thing.

The breakthrough findings are published today inNature Communications. The two distinct ideas in question have been fundamental concepts in quantum physics since the early 1900s. They are what is known as the wave-particle duality and the uncertainty principle.

“We were guided by a gut feeling, and only a gut feeling, that there should be a connection,” says Patrick Coles, now a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Quantum Computing and the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Waterloo.

  • Wave-particle duality is the idea that a quantum particle can behave like a wave, but that the wave behavior disappears if you try to locate the object.
  • The uncertainty principle is the idea that it’s impossible to know certain pairs of things about a quantum particle at once. For example, the more precisely you know the position of an atom, the less precisely you can know the speed with which it’s moving.

Coles was part of the research team at the National University of Singapore that made the discovery that wave-particle duality is simply the quantum uncertainty principle in disguise.

Like discovering the Rosetta Stone of quantum physics

“It was like we had discovered the ‘Rosetta Stone’ that connected two different languages,” says Coles. “The literature on wave-particle duality was like hieroglyphics that we could translate into our native tongue. We had several eureka moments when we finally understood what people had done.”

The research team at Singapore’s Centre for Quantum Technologies, included Jedrzej Kaniewski and Stephanie Wehner, now both researchers at the Netherlands’ Delft University of Technology.

“The connection between uncertainty and wave-particle duality comes out very naturally when you consider them as questions about what information you can gain about a system. Our result highlights the power of thinking about physics from the perspective of information,” says Wehner.

The wave-particle duality is perhaps most simply seen in a double slit experiment, where single particles, electrons, say, are fired one by one at a screen containing two narrow slits. The particles pile up behind the slits not in two heaps as classical objects would, but in a stripy pattern like you’d expect for waves interfering. At least this is what happens until you sneak a look at which slit a particle goes through – do that and the interference pattern vanishes.

The discovery deepens our understanding of quantum physics and could prompt ideas for new applications of wave-particle duality.

New protocols for quantum cryptography possible

Coles, Kaniewski and Wehner are experts in a form of mathematical equations known as ‘entropic uncertainty relations.’ They discovered that all the maths previously used to describe wave-particle duality could be reformulated in terms of these relations.

Because the entropic uncertainty relations used in their translation have also been used in proving the security of quantum cryptography – schemes for secure communication using quantum particles – the researchers suggest the work could help inspire new cryptography protocols.

How is nature itself constructed?

In earlier papers, the researchers found connections between the uncertainty principle and other physics, namely quantum ‘non-locality’ and the second law of thermodynamics. The tantalizing next goal for the researchers is to think about how these pieces fit together and what bigger picture that paints of how nature is constructed.

Source: University of WaterLoo

Characteristics of a universal simulator|Study narrows the scope of research on quantum computing

Despite a lot of work being done by many research groups around the world, the field of Quantum computing is still in its early stages. We still need to cover a lot of grounds to achieve the goal of developing a working Quantum computer capable of doing the tasks which are expected or predicted. Recent research by a SISSA led team has tried to give the future research in the area of Quantum computing some direction based on the current state of research in the area.


“A quantum computer may be thought of as a ‘simulator of overall Nature,” explains Fabio Franchini, a researcher at the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) of Trieste, “in other words, it’s a machine capable of simulating Nature as a quantum system, something that classical computers cannot do”. Quantum computers are machines that carry out operations by exploiting the phenomena of quantum mechanics, and they are capable of performing different functions from those of current computers. This science is still very young and the systems produced to date are still very limited. Franchini is the first author of a study just published in Physical Review Xwhich establishes a basic characteristic that this type of machine should possess and in doing so guides the direction of future research in this field.

The study used analytical and numerical methods. “What we found” explains Franchini, “is that a system that does not exhibit ‘Majorana fermions’ cannot be a universal quantum simulator”. Majorana fermions were hypothesized by Ettore Majorana in a paper published 1937, and they display peculiar characteristics: a Majorana fermion is also its own antiparticle. “That means that if Majorana fermions meet they annihilate among themselves,” continues Franchini. “In recent years it has been suggested that these fermions could be found in states of matter useful for quantum computing, and our study confirms that they must be present, with a certain probability related to entanglement, in the material used to build the machine”.

Entanglement, or “action at a distance”, is a property of quantum systems whereby an action done on one part of the system has an effect on another part of the same system, even if the latter has been split into two parts that are located very far apart. “Entanglement is a fundamental phenomenon for quantum computers,” explains Franchini.

“Our study helps to understand what types of devices research should be focusing on to construct this universal simulator. Until now, given the lack of criteria, research has proceeded somewhat randomly, with a huge consumption of time and resources”.

The study was conducted with the participation of many other international research institutes in addition to SISSA, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston, the University of Oxford and many others.

More in detail…

“Having a quantum computer would open up new worlds. For example, if we had one today we would be able to break into any bank account,” jokes Franchini. “But don’t worry, we’re nowhere near that goal”.

At the present time, several attempts at quantum machines exist that rely on the properties of specific materials. Depending on the technology used, these computers have sizes varying from a small box to a whole room, but so far they are only able to process a limited number of information bits, an amount infinitely smaller than that processed by classical computers.

However, it’s not correct to say that quantum computers are, or will be, more powerful than traditional ones, points out Franchini. “There are several things that these devices are worse at. But, by exploiting quantum mechanics, they can perform operations that would be impossible for classical computers”.

Source: International School of Advanced Studies (SISSA)

 

Watching Schrodinger’s cat die

By Robert Sanders


Berkeley: One of the famous examples of the weirdness of quantum mechanics is the paradox of Schrödinger’s cat.

If you put a cat inside an opaque box and make his life dependent on a random event, when does the cat die? When the random event occurs, or when you open the box?

Though common sense suggests the former, quantum mechanics – or at least the most common “Copenhagen” interpretation enunciated by Danish physicist Neils Bohr in the 1920s – says it’s the latter. Someone has to observe the result before it becomes final. Until then, paradoxically, the cat is both dead and alive at the same time.

UC Berkeley physicists have for the first time showed that, in fact, it’s possible to follow the metaphorical cat through the whole process, whether he lives or dies in the end.

“Gently recording the cat’s paw prints both makes it die, or come to life, as the case may be, and allows us to reconstruct its life history,” said Irfan Siddiqi, UC Berkeley associate professor of physics, who is senior author of a cover article describing the result in the July 31 issue of the journal Nature.

The Schrödinger’s cat paradox is a critical issue in quantum computers, where the input is an entanglement of states – like the cat’s entangled life and death– yet the answer to whether the animal is dead or alive has to be definite.

“To Bohr and others, the process was instantaneous – when you opened the box, the entangled system collapsed into a definite, classical state. This postulate stirred debate in quantum mechanics,” Siddiqi said. “But real-time tracking of a quantum system shows that it’s a continuous process, and that we can constantly extract information from the system as it goes from quantum to classical. This level of detail was never considered accessible by the original founders of quantum theory.”

In the Schrodinger’s cat paradox, a cat is both dead and alive until someone opens the box to find out. UC Berkeley physicists show you can actually probe the cat’s state continually until the final result is revealed. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
In the Schrodinger’s cat paradox, a cat is both dead and alive until someone opens the box to find out. UC Berkeley physicists show you can actually probe the cat’s state continually until the final result is revealed. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

For quantum computers, this would allow continuous error correction. The real world, everything from light and heat to vibration, can knock a quantum system out of its quantum state into a real-world, so-called classical state, like opening the box to look at the cat and forcing it to be either dead or alive. A big question regarding quantum computers, Siddiqi said, is whether you can extract information without destroying the quantum system entirely.

“This gets around that fundamental problem in a very natural way,” he said. “We can continuously probe a system very gently to get a little bit of information and continuously correct it, nudging it back into line, toward the ultimate goal.”

Being two opposing things at the same time

In the world of quantum physics, a system can be in two superposed states at the same time, as long as no one is observing. An observation perturbs the system and forces it into one or the other. Physicists say that the original entangled wave functions collapsed into a classical state.

Continuous monitoring of a qantum system can direct the quantum state along a random path. This three-dimensional map shows how scientists tracked the transition between two qubit states many times to determine the optimal path. Irfan Siddiqi image.
Continuous monitoring of a qantum system can direct the quantum state along a random path. This three-dimensional map shows how scientists tracked the transition between two qubit states many times to determine the optimal path. Irfan Siddiqi image.

In the past 10 years, theorists such as Andrew N. Jordan, professor of physics at the University of Rochester and coauthor of the Nature paper, have developed theories predicting the most likely way in which a quantum system will collapse.

“The Rochester team developed new mathematics to predict the most likely path with high accuracy, in the same way one would use Newtown’s equations to predict the least cumbersome path of a ball rolling down a mountain,” Siddiqi said. “The implications are significant, as now we can design control sequences to steer a system along a certain trajectory. For example, in chemistry one could use this to prefer certain products of a reaction over others.”

Lead researcher Steve Weber, a graduate student in Siddiqi’s group, and Siddiqi’s former postdoctoral fellow Kater Murch, now an assistant professor of physics at Washington University in St. Louis, proved Jordan correct. They measured the trajectory of the wave function of a quantum circuit – a qubit, analogous to the bit in a normal computer – as it changed. The circuit, a superconducting pendulum called a transmon, could be in two different energy states and was coupled to a second circuit to read out the final voltage, corresponding to the pendulum’s frequency.

“If you did this experiment many, many times, measuring the road the system took each time and the states it went through, we could determine what the most likely path is,” Siddiqi said. “Then we could design a control sequence to take the road we want to take for a given quantum evolution.”

If you probed a chemical reaction in detail, for example, you could find the most likely path the reaction would take and design a way to steer the reaction to the products you want, not the most likely, Siddiqi said.

“The experiment demonstrates that, for any choice of final quantum state, the most likely or ‘optimal path’ connecting them in a given time can be found and predicted,” Jordan said. “This verifies the theory and opens the way for active quantum control techniques.”

The work was supported in part by the Office of Naval Research and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), through the Army Research Office.

Source: UC Berkeley News Centre