Physicists Take Big Step Towards Quantum Computing and Encryption with new Experiment

Article written: 1 Aug , 2017
Updated: 1 Aug , 2017

Quantum entanglement remains one of the most challenging fields of study for modern physicists. Described by Einstein as “spooky action at a distance”, scientists have long sought to reconcile how this aspect of quantum mechanics can coexist with classical mechanics. Essentially, the fact that two particles can be connected over great distances violates the rules of locality and realism.

Formally, this is a violation of Bell’s Ineqaulity, a theory which has been used for decades to show that locality and realism are valid despite being inconsistent with quantum mechanics. However, in a recent study, a team of researchers from the Ludwig-Maximilian University (LMU) and the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Munich conducted tests which once again violate Bell’s Inequality and proves the existence of entanglement.

Their study, titled “Event-Ready Bell Test Using Entangled Atoms Simultaneously Closing Detection and Locality Loopholes“, was recently published in the Physical Review Letters. Led by Wenjamin Rosenfeld, a physicist at LMU and the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics, the team sought to test Bell’s Inequality by entangling two particles at a distance.

John Bell, the Irish physicist who devised a test to show that nature does not ‘hide variables’ as Einstein had proposed. Credit: CERN\

Bell’s Inequality (named after Irish physicist John Bell, who proposed it in 1964) essentially states that properties of objects exist independent of being observed (realism), and no information or physical influence can propagate faster than the speed of light (locality). These rules perfectly described the reality we human beings experience on a daily basis, where things are rooted in a particular space and time and exist independent of an observer.

However, at the quantum level, things do not appear to follow these rules. Not only can particles be connected in non-local ways over large distances (i.e. entanglement), but the properties of these particles cannot be defined until they are measured. And while all experiments have confirmed that the predictions of quantum mechanics are correct, some scientists have continued to argue that there are loopholes that allow for local realism.

To address this, the Munich team conducted an experiment using two laboratories at LMU. While the first lab was located in the basement of the physics department, the second was located in the basement of the economics department – roughly 400 meters away. In both labs, teams captured a single rubidium atom in an topical trap and then began exciting them until they released a single photon.

As Dr. Wenjamin Rosenfeld explained in an Max Planck Institute press release:

“Our two observer stations are independently operated and are equipped with their own laser and control systems. Because of the 400 meters distance between the laboratories, communication from one to the other would take 1328 nanoseconds, which is much more than the duration of the measurement process. So, no information on the measurement in one lab can be used in the other lab. That’s how we close the locality loophole.”

The experiment was performed in two locations 398 meters apart at the Ludwig Maximilian University campus in Munich, Germany. Credit: Rosenfeld et al/American Physical Society

Once the two rubidium atoms were excited to the point of releasing a photon, the spin-states of the rubidium atoms and the polarization states of the photons were effectively entangled. The photons were then coupled into optical fibers and guided to a set-up where they were brought to interference. After conducting a measurement run for eight days, the scientists were able to collected around 10,000 events to check for signs entanglement.

This would have been indicated by the spins of the two trapped rubidium atoms, which would be pointing in the same direction (or in the opposite direction, depending on the kind of entanglement). What the Munich team found was that for the vast majority of the events, the atoms were in the same state (or in the opposite state), and that there were only six deviations consistent with Bell’s Inequality.

These results were also statistically more significant than those obtained by a team of Dutch physicists in 2015. For the sake of that study, the Dutch team conducted experiments using electrons in diamonds at labs that were 1.3 km apart. In the end, their results (and other recent tests of Bell’s Inequality) demonstrated that quantum entanglement is real, effectively closing the local realism loophole.

As Wenjamin Rosenfeld explained, the tests conducted by his team also went beyond these other experiments by addressing another major issue. “We were able to determine the spin-state of the atoms very fast and very efficiently,” he said. “Thereby we closed a second potential loophole: the assumption, that the observed violation is caused by an incomplete sample of detected atom pairs”.

By obtaining proof of the violation of Bell’s Inequality, scientists are not only helping to resolve an enduring incongruity between classical and quantum physics. They are also opening the door to some exciting possibilities. For instance, for years, scientist have anticipated the development of quantum processors, which rely on entanglements to simulate the zeros and ones of binary code.

Computers that rely on quantum mechanics would be exponentially faster than conventional microprocessors, and would ushering in a new age of research and development. The same principles have been proposed for cybersecurity, where quantum encryption would be used to cypher information, making it invulnerable to hackers who rely on conventional computers.

Last, but certainly not least, there is the concept of Quantum Entanglement Communications, a method that would allow us to transmit information faster than the speed of light. Imagine the possibilities for space travel and exploration if we are no longer bound by the limits of relativistic communication!

Einstein wasn’t wrong when he characterized quantum entanglements as “spooky action”. Indeed, much of the implications of this phenomena are still as frightening as they are fascinating to physicists. But the closer we come to understanding it, the closer we will be towards developing an understanding of how all the known physical forces of the Universe fit together – aka. a Theory of Everything!

Further Reading: LMU, Physical Review Letters

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5 Responses

  1. Kamal Rajpal says

    Einstein was right when he did not agree with the EPR experiment conclusions and had said, “spooky action at a distance” cannot occur and that, “God does not play dice”. Linear Polarization

  2. chfosmith says

    The critical sentence is “These rules perfectly described the reality we human beings experience on a daily basis, where things are rooted in a particular space and time and exist independent of an observer.”
    Bell’s Inequality was proposed in 1964 by John Bell. This was before String Theory (Late 10960s) and thus before M-Theory which followed out of String Theory.
    The implicit assumption of four dimensions (3 orthogonal + time) in Bell’s Inequality is very likely incorrect, rather the 11 dimensions of M-Theory is the correct model.

  3. chfosmith says

    Quick note: The Linear Polarization counterargument is not valid because it treats the polarizer as purely a mathematical function, and ignores the interaction of the molecules of the polarizer with the photon.

  4. Kamal Rajpal says

    Also a Quantum Bit cannot be both spin up and spin down (or 0 and 1) at the same time. Please read: Electron Spin

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