A team of researchers from the University of Bonn have split, seperated and reassembled an atom using quantum mechanics in order to simulate plant photosynthesis in next-generation computers. The research is part of a broader effort to build quantum mechanics bridges, which involves pulling atoms apart so that they touch adjacent atoms, thus forming a bridge between them.
The results, published in the journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,” explain how the technology, which has nothing to do with nuclear fission, could change the world. The next stage is rather technical so bear with us.
The laws of quantum mechanics dictate that an object can theoretically exist in several different states at once, and this “double-slit” experiment was performed to put a single object into two separate slits at once. In the experiment, the researchers kept a single atom in two places by more than 10 micrometers apart. (While that’s only 1/1ooth of a millimetre, it’s a massive distance in the micro-world of atoms.) The atom was then able to be put back together undamaged.
Of course, this could only be achieved under precise and complex conditions. Firstly, the process had to occur at low temperatures, and the team was able to achieve this by cooling the cesium atom using lasers just slightly above absolute zero and then using another laser to move it.
The research has the potential to lead to the simulation of complex quantum systems in which physicists are trying to simulate plant photosynthesis. They hope that this system will be taken up by quantum computers, as today’s supercomputers cannot create it.
Of course once you control the atoms, you also then need to link them. “For us, an atom is a well-controlled and oiled cog,” said Dr. Andrea Alberti, the team’s leader. “You can build a calculator with remarkable performance using these cogs, but in order for it to work, they have to engage.”
“This is where the actual significance of splitting atoms lies: Because the two halves are put back together again, they can make contact with adjacent atoms to their left and right and then share it. This allows a small network of atoms to form that can be used — like in the memory of a computer — to simulate and control real systems, which would make their secrets more accessible.”
Next-generation computers based on photosynthesis and quantum mechanics? This can only be a good thing.
Image: Emperor Hadrian