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Counting Atoms for Quantum Networks

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: 10:39AM

In the future, potentially quite far into the future, quantum technologies may come to dominate, much like how electronics are now. Before that can happen though, many things have to be discovered, such as ways of manipulating and counting atoms. Researchers at the Niels Bohr Institute have recently found a way to do just that, without scattering the atoms being worked on.

Normally counting atoms would require shooting them with light the atoms will absorb, and seeing how the photons than scatter. This also results in the atoms being kicked out and scattered. The new method however only kicks out 14% of the atoms, which is quite an improvement. It works by trapping the atoms along an ultra-thin glass fiber by chilling them to near absolute zero. Two laser beams of different frequencies are then shot through the fiber. Because the fiber is thinner than the wavelength of the light, they also travel along the fiber's surface, allowing for strong interactions with the trapped atoms. If those atoms were not present, the beams would continue on, quite normally, but with the atoms there, the speeds of the two beams are affected, and measuring the difference between the speeds allows the atoms to be counted.

The researchers found that this method has very impressive accuracy, with an uncertainty of eight atoms, when 2500 are being held on the fiber. The method's resolution is limited by the natural quantum noise of the light, which is actually useful as it could allow for entangled states that could be used in quantum computer networks.

Source: Niels Bohr Institute

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