GNSS & Machine Learning Engineer

Tag: Quantum

Room-temperature Superconductivity breakthrough?

A groundbreaking discovery has potentially been made in the field of superconductivity. Researchers from South Korea have developed a superconductor material, codenamed LK 99 (short for the authors Lee and Kim that made the first discovery of the material in 1999), that potentially operates at room temperature and atmospheric pressure. This would be a significant leap forward, overcoming the limitations of previous superconductors that required extremely low temperatures or high pressures to function.

Superconductivity, a quantum mechanical phenomenon where the electrical resistance of a material vanishes and magnetic flux fields are expelled from within the material, was first discovered by Dutch physicist Heike Kamerlingh Onnes in 1911. This discovery earned him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1913. The implications of this phenomenon are vast, particularly for energy transmission and storage, as superconductors can conduct electricity with virtually no loss of energy.

One of the key features of superconductivity is the Meissner effect, where a superconductor in a magnetic field will expel the magnetic field within the material. This is due to the superconductor’s perfect diamagnetism, and it leads to phenomena such as magnetic levitation.

Another significant contribution to the understanding of superconductivity came from Vitaly Ginzburg and Alexei Abrikosov, who, along with Anthony Leggett, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2003. Ginzburg and Abrikosov developed the Ginzburg-Landau theory in the 1950s, a phenomenological theory that describes superconductivity in the vicinity of the critical temperature. This theory successfully explains many properties of superconductors, including the Meissner effect, and it has been instrumental in the development of the theory of type II superconductors, which remain superconducting in the presence of strong magnetic fields.

The understanding of superconductivity took a significant leap forward in 1957 when John Bardeen, Leon Cooper, and John Robert Schrieffer proposed the BCS theory. This theory, which explains how electrical resistance in certain materials disappears at very low temperatures, earned them the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1972. The theory introduced the concept of Cooper pairs, where electrons with opposite momenta and spins pair up and move through the lattice of positive ions in the material without scattering and losing energy.

In 1986, the discovery of high-temperature superconductors by Georg Bednorz and K. Alex Müller, who were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1987, marked another milestone in the field. These materials exhibited superconducting properties at temperatures higher than those predicted by the BCS theory, opening up new possibilities for practical applications.

Each superconductor has a critical temperature below which it exhibits superconductivity, and some require a minimum pressure. Traditional superconductors need extreme cooling and sometimes high pressure. High-temperature superconductors work at warmer temperatures, but still below room level. The new material, LK 99, is groundbreaking as it remains superconducting at room temperature and atmospheric pressure.

The researchers published two papers discussing their findings on arXiv within two hours of each other on July 22, 2023. The first paper, “The First Room-Temperature Ambient-Pressure Superconductor”, was authored by Sukbae Lee, Ji-Hoon Kim, and Young-Wan Kwon. The second paper, “Superconductor Pb_10-x Cu_x (PO_4)_6 O showing levitation at room temperature and atmospheric pressure and mechanism”, was authored by the same first two researchers of the first paper along with Hyun-Tak Kim, Sungyeon Im, SooMin An, and Keun Ho Auh. The strategic authorship suggests a potential candidacy for the Nobel Prize, which can only be shared among three people.

In March 2023, the group filed for their international patent application, further solidifying their claim. However, the scientific community has expressed some skepticism due to a past incident. Randa Dias, a physicist at the University of Rochester, had a paper published in Nature in October 2020 claiming room-temperature superconductivity in a carbonaceous sulfur hydride under extreme pressure. The paper was retracted in September 2022 after other researchers were unable to replicate the results. While we await conclusive evidence supporting the claim of room-temperature superconductivity, you can monitor the scientific community’s assessment of the claim here.

The LK 99 material has a critical current of 250 mA at 300°K (27°C) that quickly drops towards almost 0 when reaching 400°K. The current generates a magnetic field that breaks down superconductivity. This is a crucial aspect as high currents for generating high magnetic fields are central for applications in MRIs and in fusion reactors, where the magnetic field is used for the confinement of the plasma.

The proposed superconductor is not only revolutionary but also simple and inexpensive to produce. The process involves three steps explicitly explained in the second paper using common materials: lead oxide, lead sulfate, copper powder, and phosphorus. The resulting compound, Pb10-xCux(PO4)6O, is achieved through a series of heating and mixing processes.

The use of copper instead of lead in the superconductor results in a shrinkage effect, which was previously achieved through high pressure. This is related to the concept of a quantum well, a potential well with discrete energy values. The quantum well effect is the underlying mechanism for superconductivity in LK-99.

The potential applications of room-temperature superconductors are transformative. They could lead to more efficient power transmission, reducing energy loss during transmission through power lines. They could also enable cheaper and simpler magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines, fusion reactors, high-speed magnetic trains, and quantum computers. In addition, they could lead to more efficient batteries, potentially revolutionizing the energy storage industry. A more detailed discussion of the implications of a room-temperature ambient-pressure superconductor that depends on whether strong or weak magnetic fields and currents are possible has been put together by Andrew Cote.

A comprehensive overview of this discovery has been provided in a YouTube video by ‘Two Bit da Vinci’.

The breakthrough discovery of the room-temperature superconductor LK 99 is not the only recent advancement in the field of superconductivity. In a related development, a team of scientists from MIT and their colleagues have created a simple superconducting device that could dramatically cut energy use in computing. This device, a type of diode or switch, could transfer current through electronic devices much more efficiently than is currently possible.

The team’s work, published in the July 13 online issue of Physical Review Letters, showcases a superconducting diode that is more than twice as efficient as similar ones reported by others. It could even be integral to emerging quantum computing technologies. The diode is nanoscopic, about 1,000 times thinner than the diameter of a human hair, and is easily scalable, meaning millions could be produced on a single silicon wafer.

The team discovered that the edge asymmetries within superconducting diodes, the ubiquitous Meissner screening effect found in all superconductors, and a third property of superconductors known as vortex pinning all came together to produce the diode effect. This discovery opens the door for devices whose edges could be “tuned” for even higher efficiencies.

These advancements in superconductivity, both in the creation of room-temperature superconductors and the development of highly efficient superconducting diodes, hold great promise for the future of technology and energy efficiency. They could lead to more efficient power transmission, revolutionize the energy storage industry, and dramatically cut the amount of energy used in high-power computing systems.

You can read more about the superconducting diode in the article.

On July 29, 2023, there has been an additional announcement by Taj Quantum in Florida for a Type II room-temperature superconductor (US patent 17249094).

Google Quantum observed non-Abelian Anyons for the first time

Google Quantum AI has made a groundbreaking observation of non-Abelian anyons, particles that can exhibit any intermediate statistics between the well-known fermions and bosons. This breakthrough has the potential to transform quantum computing by significantly enhancing its resistance to noise. The term “anyon” was coined by Nobel laureate physicist Frank Wilczek in the early 1980s while studying Abelian anyons. He combined “any” with the particle suffix “-on” to emphasize the range of statistics these particles can exhibit.

Fermions are elementary particles with half-integer spin, such as quarks and leptons (electrons, muons, tauons, as well as their corresponding neutrinos), and their wave functions are anti-symmetrical under the exchange of identical particles. Examples of bosons, which have integer spin and symmetrical wave functions under particle exchange, include the Higgs boson and the gauge bosons: photons, W- and Z bosons, and gluons. In contrast, anyons obey fractional quantum statistics and possess more exotic properties that can just exist in two-dimensional systems.

The history of anyons dates back to Nobel laureate Robert Laughlin’s study of the fractional quantum Hall effect, a phenomenon observed in two-dimensional electron systems subjected to strong magnetic fields. In 1983, he proposed a wave function to describe the ground state of these systems, which led to the understanding that the fractional quantum Hall effect involves quasiparticles with fractional charge and statistics. These quasiparticles can be considered as anyons in two-dimensional space.

Anyons can be categorized into two types: Abelian and non-Abelian. Abelian anyons obey Abelian (commutative) statistics, which were studied by Wilczek and Laughlin. Under particle exchange, they pick up a phase factor of e^i*theta, where theta is a scalar that is not just 0 as for bosons or pi as for fermions. Non-Abelian anyons, on the other hand, have more exotic properties: when exchanged, their quantum states change in a non-trivial way that depends on the order of the exchange, leading to a “memory” effect. Under particle exchange, their wavefunction picks up a phase factor of U=e^i*A with Hermitian matrix A that depends on the exchanged particles. As unitary matrices usually do not commute, it is this more-dimensional phase factor that explains the non-commutativity of non-Abelian anyons. This memory effect makes non-Abelian anyons particularly interesting for topological quantum computation. While the theoretical concept of non-Abelian anyons was already discussed around 1991, it was Alexei Kitaev who made the connection to fault-tolerant, topological quantum computing in a 1997 paper.

Microsoft, among other companies, has been working on harnessing non-Abelian anyons for topological quantum computing, focusing on a specific class called Majorana zero modes, which can be realized in hybrid semiconductor-superconductor systems. “Zero modes” in quantum mechanics refer to states that exist at the lowest energy level of a quantum system, also known as the ground state. Majorana fermions are a type of fermion that were first predicted by the Italian physicist Ettore Majorana in 1937. Their defining property is that they are their own antiparticles. This is unusual for fermions, which typically have distinct particles and antiparticles due to their charge (in contrast to a boson like the photon). While Majorana zero-modes have not been observed as elementary particles, they have found a home in the realm of condensed matter physics, specifically within certain “topological” materials. Here, they manifest as emergent collective behaviors of electrons, known as quasiparticles.

These quasiparticles, termed topological Majorana fermions, appear in the atomic structure of these materials. Intriguingly, they’re found in excited states, seemingly at odds with the “zero-mode” terminology which implies a ground state. The apparent contradiction can be resolved by understanding that Majorana zero modes are ground states within their own subsystem, the specific excitation they form. However, their presence indicates an excited state for the overall electron system, compared to a state with no Majorana zero modes. In other words, they are a ground state property of an excited electron system.

In a recent paper published in Nature on May 11, 2023, Google Quantum AI reported their first-ever observation of non-Abelian anyons using a superconducting quantum processor (see also article on arXiv from 19 Oct 2022). They demonstrated the potential use of these anyons in quantum computations, such as creating a Greenberger-Horne-Zeilinger (GHZ) entangled state by braiding non-Abelian anyons together.

This achievement complements another recent study published on May 9, 2023, by quantum computing company Quantinuum, which demonstrated non-Abelian braiding using a trapped-ion quantum processor. The Google team’s work shows that non-Abelian anyon physics can be realized on superconducting processors, aligning with Microsoft’s approach to quantum computing. This breakthrough has the potential to accelerate progress towards fault-tolerant topological quantum computing.

Google demonstrates that logical Qubits actually reduce Quantum Error Rates

In an announcement from Feb 22, 2023, and in a corresponding Nature paper, Google demonstrates for the first time that logical qubits can actually reduce the error rates in a quantum computer.

Physical qubits have a 1-to-1 relation between a qubit in a quantum algorithm and its physical realization in a quantum system. The problem with physical qubits is that due to thermal noise, they can decohere so they no longer build such a quantum system with a superposition of the bit states 0 and 1. How often this decoherence happens is formalized by the quantum error rate. This error rate influences a quantum algorithm in two ways. First, the more qubits are involved in a quantum algorithm, the higher the probability of an error. Second, the longer a qubit is used in a quantum algorithm and the more gates act on it, i.e. the deeper the algorithm is, also the higher the probability of an error.

It is surprising that it is possible to correct (via quantum error correction algorithms) physical qubit errors without actually measuring the qubits (which would always destroy them). Such error correction codes are at least already known since 1996. The information of a physical qubit that is distributed over a bunch of physical qubits in a way so that certain quantum errors are automatically corrected, builds a logical qubit. However, the physical qubits involved in the logical qubit are also subjected to the quantum error rate. Thus there is an obvious trade-off between involving more physical qubits for a longer time, which could increase the error rate, and having a mechanism to reduce the error rate. Which effect prevails depends on the used error correction code as well as on the error rate of the used physical qubits. Google has now demonstrated for the first time that in their system there is actually an advantage of using a so-called surface code logical qubit.

Scientists from Google AI, Caltech, Harvard, MIT, and Fermilab simulate a traversable wormhole with a quantum computer

Researchers from Google AI, Caltech, Harvard, MIT, and Fermilab simulated a quantum theory on the Google Sycamore quantum processor to probe the dynamics of a quantum system equivalent to a wormhole in a gravity model.

The quantum experiment is based on the ER=EPR conjecture that states that wormholes are equivalent to quantum entanglement. ER stands for Einstein and Rosen who proposed the concept of wormholes (a term coined by Wheeler and Misner in a 1957 paper) in 1935, EPR stands for Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen who proposed the concept of entanglement in May 1935, one month before the ER paper (see historical context). These concepts were completely unrelated until Susskind and Maldacena conjectured in 2013 that any pair of entangled quantum systems are connected by an Einstein-Rosen bridge (= non-traversable wormhole). In 2017 Jafferis, Gao, and Wall extended the ER=EPR idea to traversable wormholes. They showed that a traversable wormhole is equivalent to quantum teleportation [1][2].

The endeavor was published on Nov 30, 2022 in a Nature article. There is also a nice video on youtube explaining the experiment. Tim Andersen discusses in an interesting article whether or not a wormhole was created in the lab.

© 2023 Stephan Seeger

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑