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When Atoms Don’t Blend In

atomic ions illustration

Researchers have demonstrated a new way for atomic ions to host disturbances that do not fade away.

Credit: E. Edwards/JQI

Researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and colleagues at the Joint Quantum Institute (JQI) have prepared and controlled a highly counterintuitive arrangement of atoms that might eventually serve as a form of durable memory in quantum information processing.

That arrangement, called many-body localization, is a condition contrary to the physics of everyday life where things tend inexorably to equilibrium. Put a drop of cream in a cup of coffee, and it soon becomes distributed uniformly throughout the cup. The “many bodies” of cream particles do not cluster in a single location.

This is also generally true of quantum objects unless some sort of disorder – analogous to rough places on the walls of the coffee cup – in the environment prevents them from dispersing homogenously. Now, the NIST and JQI researchers report in the journal Nature, localization can be achieved and preserved without disorder by carefully manipulating electric and magnetic fields.

An extensive explanatory article produced by JQI describes how this was accomplished in orderly arrays of trapped ions. Read it here.

Released January 3, 2022