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Physicists discover atomic clock can simulate quantum magnetism

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Posted August 9, 2013
This is an artist's conception of interactions among atoms in JILA's strontium atomic clock during a quantum simulation experiment. The atoms appear to all interact (indicated by the connections), leading to correlations among the atoms' spins (indicated by arrows), according to patterns JILA scientists found in collective spin measurements. The interacting atoms might be harnessed to simulate other quantum systems such as magnetic materials. Credit: Ye group and Brad Baxley, JILA

This is an artist’s conception of interactions among atoms in JILA’s strontium atomic clock during a quantum simulation experiment. The atoms appear to all interact (indicated by the connections), leading to correlations among the atoms’ spins (indicated by arrows), according to patterns JILA scientists found in collective spin measurements. The interacting atoms might be harnessed to simulate other quantum systems such as magnetic materials. Credit: Ye group and Brad Baxley, JILA

Researchers at JILA have for the first time used an atomic clock as a quantum simulator, mimicking the behavior of a different, more complex quantum system.

Atomic clocks now join a growing list of physical systems that can be used for modeling and perhaps eventually explaining the quantum mechanical behavior of exotic materials such as high-temperature superconductors, which conduct electricity without resistance. All but the smallest, most trivial quantum systems are too complicated to simulate on classical computers, hence the interest in quantum simulators. Sharing some of the features of experimental quantum computers—a hot research topic—quantum simulators are “special purpose” devices designed to provide insight into specific challenging problems.

JILA is operated jointly by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Colorado Boulder.

As described in the Aug. 9 issue of Science, the JILA experiment was performed with an atomic clock made of about 2,000 neutral strontium atoms trapped in intersecting laser beams. The researchers were surprised to discover that, under certain conditions, the clock atoms interact like atoms in magnetic materials.

“This was completely unexpected,” JILA/NIST Fellow Jun Ye says. “We were not looking for this at all, we were just naively trying to understand the particle interactions as part of our effort to further improve the clock. We were pleasantly surprised to find we can now use a clock as a powerful quantum apparatus to study magnetic spin interactions.”

Read more at: Phys.org

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