The behavior of materials depends on the interactions between innumerable atoms. A team of researchers from various universities in the Netherlands and Germany have managed to intercept a ‘conversation’ between two atoms and so they have exposed it in a recent study published in Science.
Atoms, especially magnetic ones, they can feel each other, the researchers explain. “Each atom carries a small magnetic moment called a spin. These spins they influence each other, like the needles of a compass do when you bring them closer. If you give one of them a push, they will begin to move together in a very specific way, “says Sander Otte, a physicist at the Technical University of Delft (Netherlands) and leader of the team that conducted the research, in a statement.
“According to the laws of quantum mechanics, each spin can point simultaneously in several directions, forming an overlay. This means that the actual transfer of quantum information takes place between the atoms, like some kind of conversation“adds Otte.
In order to listen to these “conversations” between atoms, Otte and her team placed two titanium atoms at a distance of just over a nanometer under a scanning tunneling microscope, a device that is capable of probing atoms one by one and can even rearrange them.
“For the two atoms together, the new state constitutes a perfect superposition, allowing the exchange of information between them. For this to happen, it is crucial that both spins get entangled: a peculiar quantum state in which they share more information about each other than is classically possible “, explains, for his part, Markus Ternes, co-author of the study and researcher at the Technical University of Aachen and the Jülich Research Center, in Germany.
According to the study authors, this discovery may be of importance for the quantum bit research. For Otte and her team, this experiment has been the starting point for larger ones.
This is how Lukas Veldman, PhD student and lead author of this publication in Science, has put it. “Here we use two atoms, but What happens when you use three, or ten, or a thousand? No one can predict that, as computing power falls short for such numbers. Perhaps one day we will be able to hear quantum conversations that no one could hear before, “concludes Veldman.