The physics of Light and Sound: Examining the Quantum Nature of Nanostructures – Putting Quantum Scientists in the Driver’s Seat

Quantum Scientists 180327141712_1_540x360
An electron beam (teal) hits a nanodiamond, exciting plasmons and vibrations in the nanodiamond that interact with the sample’s nitrogen vacancy center defects. Correlated (yellow) photons are emitted from the nanodiamond, while uncorrelated (yellow) photons are emitted by a nearby diamond excited by surface plasmons (red).
Credit: Raphael Pooser/Oak Ridge National Laboratory, US Department of Energy

Scientists at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory are conducting fundamental physics research that will lead to more control over mercurial quantum systems and materials. Their studies will enable advancements in quantum computing, sensing, simulation, and materials development.

The researchers’ experimental results were recently published in Physical Review B Rapid Communication and Optics Letters.

Quantum information is considered fragile because it can be lost when the system in which it is encoded interacts with its environment, a process called dissipation. Scientists with ORNL’s Computing and Computational Sciences and Physical Sciences directorates and Vanderbilt University have collaborated to develop methods that will help them control — or drive — the “leaky,” dissipative behavior inherent in quantum systems.

“Our goal is to develop experimental platforms that allow us to probe and control quantum coherent dynamics in materials,” said Benjamin Lawrie, a research scientist in the Quantum Sensing Team in ORNL’s Quantum Information Science Group. “To do that, you often have to be able to understand what’s going on at the nanoscale.”

Bringing perspectives from quantum information science, nanoscience and electron microscopy, the scientists exploit existing knowledge of matter and the physics of light and sound to examine the quantum nature of nanostructures — structures that measure about one-billionth of a meter.

One project focused on driving nitrogen vacancy center defects in nanodiamonds with plasmons. The naturally occurring defects are created when a nitrogen atom forms in place of the typical carbon atom, adjacent to an atomless vacancy. The defects are being investigated for use in tests of entanglement, a state that will allow substantially more information to be encoded in a quantum system than can be accomplished with classical computing.

Electrons generate an electric field. When an electron beam is applied to a material, the material’s electrons are spurred to motion — a state called excitation — creating a magnetic field that can then be detected as light. Working with plasmons, electron excitations that couple easily with light, allows scientists to examine electromagnetic fields at the nanoscale.

Matthew Feldman, a Vanderbilt University graduate student conducting doctoral research at ORNL through the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship program and a member of the Quantum Sensing Team, used a high-energy electron beam to excite nitrogen vacancy centers in diamond nanoparticles, causing them to emit light. He then used a cathodoluminescence microscope owned by ORNL’s Materials Science and Technology Division, which measures the visible-spectrum luminescence in irradiated materials, to collect the emitted photons and characterize high-speed interactions among nitrogen vacancy centers, plasmons and vibrations within the nanodiamond.

In other research, Jordan Hachtel, a postdoctoral fellow with ORNL’s Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences, used the cathodoluminescence microscope to excite plasmons in gold nanospirals. He explored how the geometry of the spirals could be harnessed to focus energy in nanoscale systems. Andy Lupini served the project as a microscopy consultant, providing expertise regarding equipment optimization and troubleshooting.

Precise control over nanoscale energy transfer is required to enable long-lived entanglement in a model explored by Eugene Dumitrescu, a research scientist in ORNL’s Quantum Information Science Group. Dumitrescu’s research, published in Physical Review A in late 2017, showed that the photon statistics Feldman collected could be used in calculations to show entanglement.

“This work advances our knowledge of how to control light-matter interactions, providing experimental proof of a phenomenon that had previously been described by simulations,” Lawrie said.

Closed systems, in which quantum information can be kept away from its surroundings, theoretically can prevent dissipation, but real-world quantum systems are open to numerous influences that result in information leakage.

“The elephant in the room in discussions of quantum systems is decoherence,” Feldman said. “If we can model an environment to influence how a quantum system works, we can enable entanglement.”

Dumitrescu agreed. “We know quantum systems will be leaky. One remedy is to drive them,” he said. “The driving mechanisms we’re exploring cancel out the effects of dissipation.”

Dumitrescu used the analogy of a musical instrument to explain the researchers’ attempts to control quantum systems. “If you pluck a violin string, you get the sound, but it begins to dissipate through the environment, the air,” he said. “But if you slowly draw the bow across the string, you get a more stable, longer-lasting sound. You’ve brought control to the system.”

Feldman thinks these are fascinating times for quantum physicists because the field of quantum computing is at the same phase classical computing was in the mid-20th century. “What excites me most is how current research could change our understanding of quantum systems and materials,” he said.

Story Source:

Materials provided by DOE/Oak Ridge National LaboratoryNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Matthew A. Feldman, Eugene F. Dumitrescu, Denzel Bridges, Matthew F. Chisholm, Roderick B. Davidson, Philip G. Evans, Jordan A. Hachtel, Anming Hu, Raphael C. Pooser, Richard F. Haglund, Benjamin J. Lawrie. Colossal photon bunching in quasiparticle-mediated nanodiamond cathodoluminescencePhysical Review B, 2018; 97 (8) DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevB.97.081404

“And Now for Something Completely Different” – Australian Physicists Have Proved That Time Travel is Possible

Scientists from the University of Queensland have used photons (single particles of light) to simulate quantum particles travelling through time. The research is cutting edge and the results could be dramatic!

Their research, entitled “Experimental simulation of closed timelike curves “, is published in the latest issue of NatureCommunications.

The grandfather paradox states that if a time traveler were to go back in time, he could accidentally prevent his grandparents from meeting, and thus prevent his own birth. However, if he had never been born, he could never have traveled back in time, in the first place. The paradoxes are largely caused by Einstein’s theory of relativity, and the solution to it, the Gödel metric.

How relativity works

Einstein’s theory of relativity is made up of two parts – general relativity and special relativity. Special relativity posits that space and time are aspects of the same thing, known as the space-time continuum, and that time can slow down or speed up, depending on how fast you are moving, relative to something else.

Gravity can also bend time, and Einstein’s theory of general relativity suggests that it would be possible to travel backwards in time by following a space-time path, i.e. a closed timeline curve that returns to the starting point in space, but arrives at an earlier time.

It was predicted in 1991 that quantum mechanics could avoid some of the paradoxes caused by Einstein’s theory of relativity, as quantum particles behave almost outside the realm of physics.

Read More: Parallel Worlds Exist And Interact With Our World, Say Physicists

“The question of time travel features at the interface between two of our most successful yet incompatible physical theories – Einstein’s general relativity and quantum mechanics. Einstein’s theory describes the world at the very large scale of stars and galaxies, while quantum mechanics is an excellent description of the world at the very small scale of atoms and molecules.” said Martin Ringbauer, a PhD student at UQ’s School of Mathematics and Physics and a lead author of the paper.

Simulating time travel

The scientists simulated the behavior of two photons interacting with each other in two different cases. In the first case, one photon passed through a wormhole and then interacted with its older self. In the second case, when a photon travels through normal space-time and interacts with another photon trapped inside a closed timeline curve forever.

“The properties of quantum particles are ‘fuzzy’ or uncertain to start with, so this gives them enough wiggle room to avoid inconsistent time travel situations,” said co-author Professor Timothy Ralph.

“Our study provides insights into where and how nature might behave differently from what our theories predict.”

Although it has been possible to simulate time travel with tiny quantum particles, the same might not be possible for larger particles or atoms, which are groups of particles.

Quantum teleportation of a particle of light six kilometers – ‘Captain Kirk to Enterprise – Beam Us Up’


Distance record set for teleporting a photon over a fiber network

A group of physicists led by Wolfgang Tittel have successfully demonstrated teleportation of a photon, an elementary particle of light, over a straight-line distance of six kilometres.
Credit: Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

What if you could behave like the crew on the Starship Enterprise and teleport yourself home or anywhere else in the world? As a human, you’re probably not going to realize this any time soon; if you’re a photon, you might want to keep reading.

Through a collaboration between the University of Calgary, The City of Calgary and researchers in the United States, a group of physicists led by Wolfgang Tittel, professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Calgary have successfully demonstrated teleportation of a photon (an elementary particle of light) over a straight-line distance of six kilometres using The City of Calgary’s fibre optic cable infrastructure. The project began with an Urban Alliance seed grant in 2014.

This accomplishment, which set a new record for distance of transferring a quantum state by teleportation, has landed the researchers a spot in the journal Nature Photonics. The finding was published back-to-back with a similar demonstration by a group of Chinese researchers.

“Such a network will enable secure communication without having to worry about eavesdropping, and allow distant quantum computers to connect,” says Tittel.

Experiment draws on ‘spooky action at a distance’

The experiment is based on the entanglement property of quantum mechanics, also known as “spooky action at a distance” — a property so mysterious that not even Einstein could come to terms with it.

“Being entangled means that the two photons that form an entangled pair have properties that are linked regardless of how far the two are separated,” explains Tittel. “When one of the photons was sent over to City Hall, it remained entangled with the photon that stayed at the University of Calgary.” teleportation-091916-7853834-3x2-700x467

Next, the photon whose state was teleported to the university was generated in a third location in Calgary and then also travelled to City Hall where it met the photon that was part of the entangled pair.

“What happened is the instantaneous and disembodied transfer of the photon’s quantum state onto the remaining photon of the entangled pair, which is the one that remained six kilometres away at the university,” says Tittel.

City’s accessible dark fibre makes research possible

The research could not be possible without access to the proper technology. One of the critical pieces of infrastructure that support quantum networking is accessible dark fibre. Dark fibre, so named because of its composition — a single optical cable with no electronics or network equipment on the alignment — doesn’t interfere with quantum technology.

The City of Calgary is building and provisioning dark fibre to enable next-generation municipal services today and for the future.

“By opening The City’s dark fibre infrastructure to the private and public sector, non-profit companies, and academia, we help enable the development of projects like quantum encryption and create opportunities for further research, innovation and economic growth in Calgary,” said Tyler Andruschak, project manager with Innovation and Collaboration at The City of Calgary.

“The university receives secure access to a small portion of our fibre optic infrastructure and The City may benefit in the future by leveraging the secure encryption keys generated out of the lab’s research to protect our critical infrastructure,” said Andruschak. In order to deliver next-generation services to Calgarians, The City has been increasing its fibre optic footprint, connecting all City buildings, facilities and assets.

Timed to within one millionth of one millionth of a second

As if teleporting a photon wasn’t challenging enough, Tittel and his team encountered a number of other roadblocks along the way.

Due to changes in the outdoor temperature, the transmission time of photons from their creation point to City Hall varied over the course of a day — the time it took the researchers to gather sufficient data to support their claim. This change meant that the two photons would not meet at City Hall.

“The challenge was to keep the photons’ arrival time synchronized to within 10 pico-seconds,” says Tittel. “That is one trillionth, or one millionth of one millionth of a second.”

Secondly, parts of their lab had to be moved to two locations in the city, which as Tittel explains was particularly tricky for the measurement station at City Hall which included state-of-the-art superconducting single-photon detectors developed by the National Institute for Standards and Technology, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“Since these detectors only work at temperatures less than one degree above absolute zero the equipment also included a compact cryostat,” said Tittel.

Milestone towards a global quantum Internet

This demonstration is arguably one of the most striking manifestations of a puzzling prediction of quantum mechanics, but it also opens the path to building a future quantum internet, the long-term goal of the Tittel group.

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Calgary. Original written by Drew Scherban, University Relations. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal References:

  1. Raju Valivarthi, Grimau Puigibert, Qiang Zhou, Gabriel H. Aguilar, Varun B. Verma, Francesco Marsili, Matthew D. Shaw, Sae Woo Nam, Daniel Oblak, Wolfgang Tittel. Quantum teleportation across a metropolitan fibre network. Nature Photonics, 2016; DOI:10.1038/nphoton.2016.180
  2. Qi-Chao Sun, Ya-Li Mao, Si-Jing Chen, Wei Zhang, Yang-Fan Jiang, Yan-Bao Zhang, Wei-Jun Zhang, Shigehito Miki, Taro Yamashita, Hirotaka Terai, Xiao Jiang, Teng-Yun Chen, Li-Xing You, Xian-Feng Chen, Zhen Wang, Jing-Yun Fan, Qiang Zhang, Jian-Wei Pan. Quantum teleportation with independent sources and prior entanglement distribution over a network. Nature Photonics, 2016; DOI:10.1038/nphoton.2016.179

Nanotechnology Quantum Computing Global Communications Network

id28229Published on Jul 28, 2013

A fascinating applied Nanotechnology engineering documentary where current research for a quantum computer based global communications network is described. Just another example of how the applications derived from advances in quantum physics and the understanding of quantum mechanics will very soon be changing our everyday lives!


When fluid dynamics mimic quantum mechanics

MIT researchers expand the range of quantum behaviors that can be replicated in fluidic systems, offering a new perspective on wave-particle duality.

Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office     July 29, 2013

When fluid dynamics mimic quantum mechanics

                            Image: Dan Harris  
When the waves are confined to a circular corral, they reflect back on themselves, producing complex patterns (grey ripples) that steer the droplet in an apparently random trajectory (white line). But in fact, the droplet’s motion follows statistical patterns determined by the wavelength of the waves.
In the early days of quantum physics, in an attempt to explain the wavelike behavior of quantum particles, the French physicist Louis de Broglie proposed what he called a “pilot wave” theory. According to de Broglie, moving particles — such as electrons, or the photons in a beam of light — are borne along on waves of some type, like driftwood on a tide.
Physicists’ inability to detect de Broglie’s posited waves led them, for the most part, to abandon pilot-wave theory. Recently, however, a real pilot-wave system has been discovered, in which a drop of fluid bounces across a vibrating fluid bath, propelled by waves produced by its own collisions.
In 2006, Yves Couder and Emmanuel Fort, physicists at Université Paris Diderot, used this system to reproduce one of the most famous experiments in quantum physics: the so-called “double-slit” experiment, in which particles are fired at a screen through a barrier with two holes in it.
In the latest issue of the journal Physical Review E (PRE), a team of MIT researchers, in collaboration with Couder and his colleagues, report that they have produced the fluidic analogue of another classic quantum experiment, in which electrons are confined to a circular “corral” by a ring of ions. In the new experiments, bouncing drops of fluid mimicked the electrons’ statistical behavior with remarkable accuracy.
“This hydrodynamic system is subtle, and extraordinarily rich in terms of mathematical modeling,” says John Bush, a professor of applied mathematics at MIT and corresponding author on the new paper. “It’s the first pilot-wave system discovered and gives insight into how rational quantum dynamics might work, were such a thing to exist.”
Joining Bush on the PRE paper are lead author Daniel Harris, a graduate student in mathematics at MIT; Couder and Fort; and Julien Moukhtar, also of Université Paris Diderot. In a separate pair of papers, appearing this month in the Journal of Fluid Mechanics, Bush and Jan Molacek, another MIT graduate student in mathematics, explain the fluid mechanics that underlie the system’s behavior.
Interference inference
The double-slit experiment is seminal because it offers the clearest demonstration of wave-particle duality: As the theoretical physicist Richard Feynman once put it, “Any other situation in quantum mechanics, it turns out, can always be explained by saying, ‘You remember the case of the experiment with the two holes? It’s the same thing.’”If a wave traveling on the surface of water strikes a barrier with two slits in it, two waves will emerge on the other side. Where the crests of those waves intersect, they form a larger wave; where a crest intersects with a trough, the fluid is still. A bank of pressure sensors struck by the waves would register an “interference pattern” — a series of alternating light and dark bands indicating where the waves reinforced or canceled each other.

Photons fired through a screen with two holes in it produce a similar interference pattern — even when they’re fired one at a time. That’s wave-particle duality: the mathematics of wave mechanics explains the statistical behavior of moving particles.
In the experiments reported in PRE, the researchers mounted a shallow tray with a circular depression in it on a vibrating stand. They filled the tray with a silicone oil and began vibrating it at a rate just below that required to produce surface waves.
They then dropped a single droplet of the same oil into the bath. The droplet bounced up and down, producing waves that pushed it along the surface.
The waves generated by the bouncing droplet reflected off the corral walls, confining the droplet within the circle and interfering with each other to create complicated patterns. As the droplet bounced off the waves, its motion appeared to be entirely random, but over time, it proved to favor certain regions of the bath over others.
It was found most frequently near the center of the circle, then, with slowly diminishing frequency, in concentric rings whose distance from each other was determined by the wavelength of the pilot wave.
The statistical description of the droplet’s location is analogous to that of an electron confined to a circular quantum corral and has a similar, wavelike form.
“It’s a great result,” says Paul Milewski, a math professor at the University of Bath, in England, who specializes in fluid mechanics. “Given the number of quantum-mechanical analogues of this mechanical system already shown, it’s not an enormous surprise that the corral experiment also behaves like quantum mechanics. But they’ve done an amazingly careful job, because it takes very accurate measurements over a very long time of this droplet bouncing to get this probability distribution.”
“If you have a system that is deterministic and is what we call in the business ‘chaotic,’ or sensitive to initial conditions, sensitive to perturbations, then it can behave probabilistically,” Milewski continues. “Experiments like this weren’t available to the giants of quantum mechanics. They also didn’t know anything about chaos.
Suppose these guys — who were puzzled by why the world behaves in this strange probabilistic way — actually had access to experiments like this and had the knowledge of chaos, would they have come up with an equivalent, deterministic theory of quantum mechanics, which is not the current one? That’s what I find exciting from the quantum perspective.”

Nanotechnology – Producing the Quantum computer

Published on May 25, 2013



Nanotechnology. The production of the quantum computer based on the quantum spin of electrons and its application to calculation, computing and technology!

Watch here; Nanotechnology Documentary – Quantum Computing, what it is, how it works!


New qubit control bodes well for future of quantum computing

QDOTS imagesCAKXSY1K 8January  11, 2013

Yale University scientists have found a way to observe quantum information while preserving its integrity, an achievement that offers researchers greater control in the volatile realm of quantum mechanics and greatly improves the prospects of quantum computing.

Quantum computers would be exponentially faster than the most powerful computers of today.

“Our experiment is a dress rehearsal for a type of process essential for quantum computing,” said Michel Devoret, the Frederick William Beinecke Professor of Applied Physics & Physics at Yale and principal investigator of research published Jan. 11 in the journal Science. “What this experiment really allows is an active understanding of quantum mechanics. It’s one thing to stare at a theoretical formula and it’s another thing to be able to control a real quantum object.”

In quantum systems, microscopic units called qubits represent information. Qubits can assume either of two states — “0” or “1” — or both simultaneously. Correctly recognizing, interpreting, and tracking their state is necessary for quantum computing. However, the act of monitoring them usually damages their information content.

The Yale physicists successfully devised a new, non-destructive measurement system for observing, tracking and documenting all changes in a qubit’s state, thus preserving the qubit’s informational value. In principle, the scientists said, this should allow them to monitor the qubit’s state in order to correct for random errors.

“As long as you know what error process has occurred, you can correct,” Devoret said. “And then everything’s fine. You can basically undo the errors.”

qubits_0An innovation by Yale University physicists offers scientists greater control in the volatile realm of quantum mechanics and greatly improves the prospects of quantum computing. Quantum computers would be exponentially faster than the most powerful computers oftoday.

“That’s the key,” said Michael Hatridge, a postdoctoral associate in physics at Yale and lead author of the Science paper, “the ability to talk to the qubit and hear what it’s telling you.”


He continued: “A major problem with quantum computing is the finite lifetime of information stored in the qubits, which steadily decays and which must be corrected. We now know that it is possible to do this correction by feedback involving a continuous measurement. Our work advances the prospects of large-scale quantum computers by opening the door to continuous measurement-based quantum feedback.”

The Yale physicists successfully measured one qubit. The challenge ahead is to measure and control many at once, and the team is developing ultra-fast digital electronics for this purpose.

“We are on the threshold between the ability to measure and control one or two qubits, and many,” Hatridge said.

Other authors of the paper are S. Shankar, M. Mirrahimi, F. Schackert, K. Geerlings, T. Brecht, K.M. Sliwa, B. Abdo, L. Frunzio, S.M. Girvin, and R.J. Schoelkopf.

Support for the research was provided by the National Science Foundation, the United States Army Research Office, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, the Agence National de Recherche, and the College de France.

Topological Superconductors: NIST and the U of Maryland

Seeking a robust home for qubits | October 8th, 2012

If quantum computers are ever going to perform all those expected feats of code-breaking and number crunching, then their component qubits—tiny ephemeral quantum cells held in a superposition of internal states—will have to be protected from intervention by the outside world. In other words, decoherence, the loss of the qubits’ quantum integrity, has to be postponed. Now theoretical physicists at the Joint Quantum Institute (JQI) and the University of Maryland have done an important step forward to understand qubits in a real-world setup. In a new study they show, for the first time, that qubits can successfully exist in a so called topological superconductor material even in the presence of impurities in the material and strong interactions among participating electrons.

To see how qubits can enter into their special coherence-protection program, courtesy of “Majorana particles,” an exotic form of excitation, some groundwork has to be laid.

Quantum Materials

topsup-01Figure 1
Credit: Emily Edwards
Click for Hi-Res

Most designs for qubits involve materials where quantum effects are important. In one such material, superconductors (SC), electrons pair up and can then enter into a large ensemble, a supercurrent, which flows through the material without suffering energy loss. Another material is a sandwich of semiconductors which support the quantum Hall effect (QHE). Here, very low temperatures and a powerful external magnetic field force electrons in a thin boundary layer to execute tiny cyclone motions (not exactly, but ok—also isn’t a cyclone a storm?). At the edge of these layers, the electrons, unable to trace out a complete circular path, will creep along the edge, where they constitute a net electrical current.


One of the most interesting and useful facts about these electrons at the edge is that they move in one direction. They cannot scatter backwards no matter how many impurities (which in ordinary conductors can lead to energy dissipation) may be in the material. If, furthermore, the electrons can be oriented according to their spin—their intrinsic angular momentum—then we get what is called the quantum spin Hall effect (QSH). In this case all electrons with spin up will circulate around the material (at the edge) in one direction, while electrons with spin down will circulate around in the opposite direction.

The QHE state is depicted in figure 1.

Topological Materials


topsup-02Figure 2
Credit: Emily Edwards
Click for Hi-Res

In some materials the underlying magnetism of the nuclei in the atoms making of the material is so strong than no external magnet is needed to create the Hall effects. Mercury-cadmium-telluride compounds are examples of materials called topological insulators. Insulators (not sure how this sentence was supposed to start, but grammatically is currently confusing) because even as electrons move around the edge of the material with very little loss of energy, the interior of these 3-dimensional structures is an insulator; no current flows. The “topological” is a bit harder to explain. Partly the flow of current on the outside bespeaks of geometry: the electrons flow only at the edge and are unable (owing to quantum interactions) from scattering backwards if they meet an impediment.


But topology in this case has more to do with the way in which the motion of the electrons in these materials are described in terms of “dispersion relations.” Just as waves of white light will be dispersed into a spectrum of colors when the waves strike the oblique side of a prism, so electron waves (electrons considered as quantum waves) will be “dispersed,” in the sense that electrons with the same energy might have different momenta, depending on how the electrons move through the material in question.

The idea of electron dispersal is often depicted in the form of an energy-level diagram. In insulators (the left panel of Figure 2) electrons remain in a valence band; they don’t have enough energy to visit the conduction band of energies; hence the electrons do not move; the material is an insulator against electricity. In a conductor (middle part) the conduction and valence bands overlap. In the QHE (right panel) electrons in the interior of the material also do not move along; the bulk of the material is an insulator. But for electrons at the edge there is a chance for movement into the conduction band.

Now for the topology: just as a coffee cup is equivalent to a donut topologically—either can be transformed into the other by stretching but not by any tearing—so here the valence band can be transformed into a conduction band (at least for edge states) no matter what impurities might be present in the underlying material. In other words, the “topological” nature of the material offers some protection for the flow of electrons against the otherwise-dissipating effects of impurities.

The marvelous properties of superconductors and topological materials can be combined. If a one-dimensional topological specimen—a nanowire made from indium and arsenic—is draped across a superconductor (niobium, say) then the superconductivity can extend into the wire (proximity effect). And in this conjunction of materials, still another hotly-pursued effect can come into play.

Majorana Particles


topsup-03Figure 3
The orange balls (the letter gamma) mark the two places, at either end of the nanowire, where the Majorana excitations appear. The wire sits atop the superconductor. (Credit: Alejandro Lobos)
Click for Hi-Res

One last concept is needed here—Majorana particles—named for the Italian physicist Ettore Majorana, who predicted in 1937 the existence of a class of particle that would serve as its own antiparticle. Probably this object would not exist usefully in the form of a single real particle but would, rather, appear in a material as a quasiparticle, an ensemble excitation of many electrons.


Some scientists believe that qubits made from Majorana pulses excited in topological materials (and benefitting from the same sort of topological protection that benefits, say, electrons in QHE materials) would be much more immune from decoherence than other qubits based on conventional particles.

Specifically Sankar Das Sarma and his colleagues at the University of Maryland (JQI and the Condensed Matter Theory Center) predicted that Majorana particles would appear in topological quantum nanowires. In fact part of the Majorana excitation would appear at both ends of the wire. These predictions were borne out. It is precisely the separation of these two parts (each of which constitutes a sort of “half electron”) that confers some of the anticipated coherence-protection: a qubit made of that Majorana excitation would not be disrupted by merely a local irregularity in the wire.

A recent experiment in Holland provides preliminary evidence for exactly this occurrence (***).

Robust Qubits Amid Disorder


topsup-04Figure 4
Here is a picture of the prospective experimental setup in which Majorana particles could be made in a hybrid superconductor-nanowire material. In (a) the topological semiconductor bridges a gap between two parts of a superconductor. The letter phi represents an external magnetic field which can tailor conditions in the semiconductor. In (b) the immediate nanowire (gray rod) environment is shown. L is the size of the gap between the superconductor halves while L1 is the distance over which the underlying superconductivity will persist within the overlying semiconductor. (c) shows how the superconductor (SC)-semiconductor (SM) sandwich can be further tuned by a nearby electrical circuit. (Credit: Lutchyn, Sau and Das Sarma)
Click for Hi-Res

One of the authors of the new study, Alejandro Lobos, said that the earlier Maryland prediction, useful as it was, was still somewhat idealistic in that it didn’t fully grapple with the presence of impurities, a fact of life which all engineers of actual computers must confront. This is what the new paper, which appears in the journal Physical Review Letters, addresses.


The problem of impurities or defects (which flowing electrons encounter as a form of disorder) is especially important for components which are two or even one dimensional in nature. The same is true for the repulsive force among electrons. “In 3-dimensional materials,” said Lobos, “electrons (and their screening clouds of surrounding holes) can avoid each other thanks to the availability of space. They can just go around each other. In 1-D materials, this is not possible, since electrons cannot pass each other. In 1D, if one electron wants to move, it has to move all the other electrons! This ensures that excitations in a 1D metal are necessarily collective, as opposed to the single-particle excitations existing in a 3D metal.

So, in summary, the new Maryland work shows that disorder and electron interactions, two things that normally work to disrupt superconductivity, can be overcome with careful engineering of the material. “A number of important theoretical studies before ours have focused on the destabilizing effects of either disorder or interaction on topological superconductors,” said Lobos. “These studies showed the extent to which a topological superconductor could survive under these effects separately. But to make contact with real materials, disorder and interactions have to be considered on equal footing and simultaneously, a particular requirement imposed by the one-dimensional geometry of the system. It was then an important question to determine if it was possible to stabilize a topological superconductor under their simultaneous presence. The good news is that the answer is yes: despite their detrimental effect, there is still a sizable range of parameters where topological superconductors hosting Majorana excitations can exist. That’s the main result of our study, which will be useful to understand and characterize topological superconductors in more realistic situations.”


(*) The Joint Quantum Institute is operated jointly by the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, MD and the University of Maryland in College Park.

(**) “Interplay of disorder and interaction in Majorana quantum wires,” Alejandro M. Lobos, Roman M. Lutchyn, and S. Das Sarma, Physical Review Letters, 5 October 2012

(***) See earlier Majorana JQI press release and several pertinent research papers

Alejandro M. Lobos, (301)405-0603,

Press contact: Phillip F. Schewe,, 301-405-0989.