martedì 28 febbraio 2012

Quantum Microphone Captures Extremely Weak Sound.

A "quantum microphone" based on a Single Electron Transistor (SET) detects sound waves on a chip surface, so called Surface Acoustic Waves (SAW). The waves make the charge of the atoms underneath the quantum microphon oscillate. Since the quantum microphone is an extremely sensitive charge detector, very low sound levels can be detected. (The size of the waves are exaggerated in the picture). (Credit: Philip Krantz, Chalmers)
Source: Science Daily
ScienceDaily (Feb. 27, 2012) — Scientists from Chalmers University of Technology have demonstrated a new kind of detector for sound at the level of quietness of quantum mechanics. The result offers prospects of a new class of quantum hybrid circuits that mix acoustic elements with electrical ones, and may help illuminate new phenomena of quantum physics.
The results have been published in Nature Physics.
The "quantum microphone" is based on a single electron transistor, that is, a transistor where the current passes one electron at a time. The acoustic waves studied by the research team propagate over the surface of a crystalline microchip, and resemble the ripples formed on a pond when a pebble is thrown into it. The wavelength of the sound is a mere 3 micrometers, but the detector is even smaller, and capable of rapidly sensing the acoustic waves as they pass by.
On the chip surface, the researchers have fabricated a three-millimeter-long echo chamber, and even though the speed of sound on the crystal is ten times higher than in air, the detector shows how sound pulses reflect back and forth between the walls of the chamber, thereby verifying the acoustic nature of the wave.
The detector is sensitive to waves with peak heights of a few percent of a proton diameter, levels so quiet that sound can be governed by quantum law rather than classical mechanics, much in the same way as light.
"The experiment is done on classical acoustic waves, but it shows that we have everything in place to begin studies of proper quantum-acoustics, and nobody has attempted that before," says Martin Gustafsson, PhD student and first author of the article.
Apart from the extreme quietness, the pitch of the waves is too high for us to hear: The frequency of almost 1 gigahertz is 21 octaves above one-lined A. The new detector is the most sensitive in the world for such high-frequency sound.

lunedì 27 febbraio 2012

Replacing Electricity With Light: First Physical 'Metatronic' Circuit Created.

Figure A. When the plane of the electric field is in line with the nanorods the circuit is wired in parallel. Figure B. When the plane of the electric field crosses both the nanorods and the gaps the circuit is wired in series. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Pennsylvania).
Source: Science Daily
ScienceDaily (Feb. 23, 2012) — The technological world of the 21st century owes a tremendous amount to advances in electrical engineering, specifically, the ability to finely control the flow of electrical charges using increasingly small and complicated circuits. And while those electrical advances continue to race ahead, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are pushing circuitry forward in a different way, by replacing electricity with light.

"Looking at the success of electronics over the last century, I have always wondered why we should be limited to electric current in making circuits," said Nader Engheta, professor in the electrical and systems engineering department of Penn's School of Engineering and Applied Science. "If we moved to shorter wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum -- like light -- we could make things smaller, faster and more efficient."
Different arrangements and combinations of electronic circuits have different functions, ranging from simple light switches to complex supercomputers. These circuits are in turn built of different arrangements of circuit elements, like resistors, inductors and capacitors, which manipulate the flow of electrons in a circuit in mathematically precise ways. And because both electric circuits and optics follow Maxwell's equations -- the fundamental formulas that describe the behavior of electromagnetic fields -- Engheta's dream of building circuits with light wasn't just the stuff of imagination. In 2005, he and his students published a theoretical paper outlining how optical circuit elements could work.
Now, he and his group at Penn have made this dream a reality, creating the first physical demonstration of "lumped" optical circuit elements. This represents a milestone in a nascent field of science and engineering Engheta has dubbed "metatronics."
Engheta's research, which was conducted with members of his group in the electrical and systems engineering department, Yong Sun, Brian Edwards and Andrea Alù, was published in the journal Nature Materials.
In electronics, the "lumped" designation refers to elements that can be treated as a black box, something that turns a given input to a perfectly predictable output without an engineer having to worry about what exactly is going on inside the element every time he or she is designing a circuit.
"Optics has always had its own analogs of elements, things like lenses, waveguides and gratings," Engheta said, "but they were never lumped. Those elements are all much larger than the wavelength of light because that's all that could be easily built in the old days. For electronics, the lumped circuit elements were always much smaller than the wavelength of operation, which is in the radio or microwave frequency range."
Nanotechnology has now opened that possibility for lumped optical circuit elements, allowing construction of structures that have dimensions measured in nanometers. In this experiment's case, the structure was comb-like arrays of rectangular nanorods made of silicon nitrite.
The "meta" in "metatronics" refers to metamaterials, the relatively new field of research where nanoscale patterns and structures embedded in materials allow them to manipulate waves in ways that were previously impossible. Here, the cross-sections of the nanorods and the gaps between them form a pattern that replicates the function of resistors, inductors and capacitors, three of the most basic circuit elements, but in optical wavelengths.
"If we have the optical version of those lumped elements in our repertoire, we can actually make designs similar to what we do in electronics but now for operation with light," Engheta said. "We can build a circuit with light."
In their experiment, the researchers illuminated the nanorods with an optical signal, a wave of light in the mid-infrared range. They then used spectroscopy to measure the wave as it passed through the comb. Repeating the experiment using nanorods with nine different combinations of widths and heights, the researchers showed that the optical "current" and optical "voltage" were altered by the optical resistors, inductors and capacitors with parameters corresponding to those differences in size.
"A section of the nanorod acts as both an inductor and resistor, and the air gap acts as a capacitor," Engheta said.
Beyond changing the dimensions and the material the nanorods are made of, the function of these optical circuits can be altered by changing the orientation of the light, giving metatronic circuits access to configurations that would be impossible in traditional electronics.
This is because a light wave has polarizations; the electric field that oscillates in the wave has a definable orientation in space. In metatronics, it is that electric field that interacts and is changed by elements, so changing the field's orientation can be like rewiring an electric circuit.
When the plane of the field is in line with the nanorods, as in Figure A, the circuit is wired in parallel and the current passes through the elements simultaneously. When the plane of the electric field crosses both the nanorods and the gaps, as in Figure B, the circuit is wired in series and the current passes through the elements sequentially.
"The orientation gives us two different circuits, which is why we call this 'stereo-circuitry,'" Engheta said. "We could even have the wave hit the rods obliquely and get something we don't have in regular electronics: a circuit that's neither in series or in parallel but a mixture of the two."
This principle could be taken to an even higher level of complexity by building nanorod arrays in three dimensions. An optical signal hitting such a structure's top would encounter a different circuit than a signal hitting its side. Building off their success with basic optical elements, Engheta and his group are laying the foundation for this kind of complex metatronics.
"Another reason for success in electronics has to do with its modularity," he said. "We can make an infinite number of circuits depending on how we arrange different circuit elements, just like we can arrange the alphabet into different words, sentences and paragraphs.
"We're now working on designs for more complicated optical elements," Engheta said. "We're on a quest to build these new letters one by one."
This work was supported in part by the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research.
Andrea Alù is now an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

Scientists Score New Victory Over Quantum Uncertainty.

Michael Chapman, a professor in the School of Physics at Georgia Tech, poses with optical equipment in his laboratory. Chapman’s research team is exploring squeezed states using atoms of Bose-Einstein condensates. (Click image for high-resolution version. Credit: Gary Meek) (Credit: Image courtesy of Georgia Institute of Technology, Research Communications)
Source: Science Daily
ScienceDaily (Feb. 26, 2012) — Most people attempt to reduce the little uncertainties of life by carrying umbrellas on cloudy days, purchasing automobile insurance or hiring inspectors to evaluate homes they might consider purchasing. For scientists, reducing uncertainty is a no less important goal, though in the weird realm of quantum physics, the term has a more specific meaning.
For scientists working in quantum physics, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle says that measurements of properties such as the momentum of an object and its exact position cannot be simultaneously specified with arbitrary accuracy. As a result, there must be some uncertainty in either the exact position of the object, or its exact momentum. The amount of uncertainty can be determined, and is often represented graphically by a circle showing the area within which the measurement actually lies.
Over the past few decades, scientists have learned to cheat a bit on the Uncertainty Principle through a process called "squeezing," which has the effect of changing how the uncertainty is shown graphically. Changing the circle to an ellipse and ultimately to almost a line allows one component of the complementary measurements -- the momentum or the position, in the case of an object -- to be specified more precisely than would otherwise be possible. The actual area of uncertainty remains unchanged, but is represented by a different shape that serves to improve accuracy in measuring one property.
This squeezing has been done in measuring properties of photons and atoms, and can be important to certain high-precision measurements needed by atomic clocks and the magnetometers used to create magnetic resonance imaging views of structures deep inside the body. For the military, squeezing more accuracy could improve the detection of enemy submarines attempting to hide underwater or improve the accuracy of atom-based inertial guidance instruments.
Now physicists at the Georgia Institute of Technology have added another measurement to the list of those that can be squeezed. In a paper appearing online February 26 in the journal Nature Physics, they report squeezing a property called the nematic tensor, which is used to describe the rubidium atoms in Bose-Einstein condensates, a unique form of matter in which all atoms have the same quantum state. The research was sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
"What is new about our work is that we have probably achieved the highest level of atom squeezing reported so far, and the more squeezing you get, the better," said Michael Chapman, a professor in Georgia Tech's School of Physics. "We are also squeezing something other than what people have squeezed before."
Scientists have been squeezing the spin states of atoms for 15 years, but only for atoms that have just two relevant quantum states -- known as spin ½ systems. In collections of those atoms, the spin states of the individual atoms can be added together to get a collective angular momentum that describes the entire system of atoms.
In the Bose-Einstein condensate atoms being studied by Chapman's group, the atoms have three quantum states, and their collective spin totals zero -- not very helpful for describing systems. So Chapman and graduate students Chris Hamley, Corey Gerving, Thai Hoang and Eva Bookjans learned to squeeze a more complex measure that describes their system of spin 1 atoms: nematic tensor, also known as quadrupole.
Nematicity is a measure of alignment that is important in describing liquid crystals, exotic magnetic materials and some high temperature superconductors.
"We don't have a spin vector pointing in a particular direction, but there is still some residual information in where this collection of atoms is pointing," Chapman explained. "That next higher-order description is the quadrupole, or nematic tensor. Squeezing this actually works quite well, and we get a large degree of improvement, so we think it is relatively promising."
Experimentally, the squeezing is created by entangling some of the atoms, which takes away their independence. Chapman's group accomplishes this by colliding atoms in their ensemble of some 40,000 rubidium atoms.
"After they collide, the state of one atom is connected to that of the other atom, so they have been entangled in that way," he said. "This entanglement creates the squeezing."
Reducing uncertainty in measuring atoms could have important implications for precise magnetic measurements. The next step will be to determine experimentally if the technique can improve the measurement of magnetic field, which could have important applications.
"In principle, this should be a straightforward experiment, but it turns out that the biggest challenge is that magnetic fields in the laboratory fluctuate due to environmental factors such as the effects of devices such as computer monitors," Chapman said. "If we had a noiseless laboratory, we could measure the magnetic field both with and without squeezed states to demonstrate the enhanced precision. But in our current lab environment, our measurements would be affected by outside noise, not the limitations of the atomic sensors we are using."
The new squeezed property could also have application to quantum information systems, which can store information in the spin of atoms and their nematic tensor.
"There are a lot of things you can do with quantum entanglement, and improving the accuracy of measurements is one of them," Chapman added. "We still have to obey Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, but we do have the ability to manipulate it."