Physicist creates fifth state of matter from the living room

Physicist creates fifth state of matter from the living room

Using quantum technology, a physicist generated the fifth state of matter while working from home.

Despite working remotely from her living room two miles away, Dr. Amruta Gadge of the Quantum Systems and Devices Laboratory successfully generated a Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC) at the University of Sussex facilities.

It is said to be the first time BEC has been produced remotely in a lab that did not originally have one. The study team believes the achievement could serve as a model for using quantum technologies in inaccessible environments such as space.

Peter Krüger, Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Sussex, said: “We believe this may be the first time that someone has established a BEC remotely in a lab that didn’t have one before. We are all extremely excited that we can continue to conduct our experiments remotely during lockdown, and any possible future lockdowns.”

“But there are also wider implications beyond our team. Enhancing the capabilities of remote lab control is relevant for research applications aimed at operating quantum technology in inaccessible environments such as space, underground, in a submarine, or in extreme climates.”

A BEC is made up of hundreds of thousands of rubidium atoms that have been cooled to nanokelvin temperatures, which are more than a billion times lower than freezing. At this time, the atoms take on a new property and behave as a single quantum object. This quantum item has unique properties that allow it to sense very low magnetic fields.

Professor Krüger said: “We use multiple carefully timed steps of laser and radio wave cooling to prepare rubidium gases at these ultralow temperatures. This requires accurate computer control of laser light, magnets and electric currents in microchips based on vigilant monitoring of environmental conditions in the lab while nobody is able to be there to check in person.”

The image confirming the successful creation of the BEC. Credit: University of Sussex

Over the past nine months, the Quantum Systems and Devices Group has been working on establishing a second lab with a BEC as part of a larger project to develop a new type of magnetic microscopy and other quantum sensors.

The study team used atomic gases as magnetic sensors in close proximity to a variety of objects, including novel advanced materials, ion channels in cells, and the human brain. Controlled entrapment of cold quantum gases results in extremely accurate and exact sensors that are perfect for detecting and investigating new materials, geometries, and devices.

The research team are developing their sensors to be applied in many areas including electric vehicle batteries, touch screens, solar cells and medical advancements such as brain imaging. Researchers set up a 2-D magnetic optical trap just before lockdown and have only returned a couple of times to do required maintenance.

Dr. Gadge, a Research Fellow in Quantum Physics and Technologies at the University of Sussex, was able to perform the difficult calculations, then refine and run the sequence from her home by remotely accessing the lab computers.

She said: “The research team has been observing lockdown and working from home and so we have not been able to access our labs for weeks. But we were determined to keep our research going so we have been exploring new ways of running our experiments remotely. It has been a massive team effort.

“The process has been a lot slower than if I had been in the lab as the experiment is unstable and I’ve had to give 10-15 minutes of cooling time between each run. This is obviously not as efficient and way more laborious to do manually because I’ve not been able to do systematic scans or fix the instability like I could working in the lab.

“We’re hopeful of establishing a skeleton crew back in the labs with social distancing measures in place as soon as it is safe to do so and permitted but we will be able to have many of the team continuing to work from home on a rota basis thanks to the progress we have made with remote working.”

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