Detection of Atomic Vibrations Paves Way for Quantum Tech Advancements

by François Dupont
Quantum Technology Development

A team of scientists at the University of Washington has discovered the phenomena of atomic vibrations, referred to as “breathing.” This observation could assist in encoding and transferring quantum information. Additionally, they have developed a new device that can interact with these atomic vibrations and light emissions, thereby propelling the progress of quantum technology.

By utilizing a laser to excite the atoms, the researchers have been able to detect atomic breathing, which is the mechanical movement between two atomic layers. The sound produced by this process may potentially aid in the encoding and transmission of quantum data.

Along with this, the researchers have also created a device that could provide a fresh building block for quantum technologies. These technologies are expected to find widespread application in areas like computing, communication, and sensor development in the future.

The findings of the research team have been recently published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

“With this new atomic-scale platform, we’re utilizing what’s known in the scientific community as ‘optomechanics,’ where light and mechanical motions are intimately linked,” said Mo Li, the senior author of the study, who is a professor of both electrical and computer engineering and physics at the University of Washington. “This gives rise to a unique quantum effect that can be harnessed to control single photons navigating through integrated optical circuits for a variety of applications.”

Adina Ripin. Credit: University of Washington

In prior research, the team had focused on a quantum-level quasiparticle called an “exciton.” It is possible to encode information into an exciton which can then be emitted as a photon – the fundamental quantum unit of light. Each photon carries quantum properties like polarization, wavelength, and emission timing, which can serve as a quantum bit, or “qubit,” vital for quantum computing and communication. Since this qubit is transported by a photon, it moves at the speed of light.

“To feasibly build a quantum network, we need reliable methods for creating, manipulating, storing, and transmitting qubits,” stated lead author Adina Ripin, a doctoral physics student at the University of Washington. “Given the efficiency of optical fibers in transporting photons over long distances at high speeds, with minimal energy or information loss, photons are a natural choice for this quantum information transmission.”

The team worked with excitons to create a single photon emitter or “quantum emitter,” an essential component for light and optics-based quantum technologies. To achieve this, they layered tungsten and selenium atoms, creating tungsten diselenide, atop one another.

Mo Li. Credit: University of Washington

When the researchers applied a specific pulse of laser light, they dislodged an electron from a tungsten diselenide atom’s nucleus, generating an exciton quasiparticle. Each exciton was comprised of a negatively charged electron on one tungsten diselenide layer and a positively charged vacancy, or “hole,” on the other, where the electron used to reside. Opposite charges attracted each other, causing the electron and the hole to bond tightly. Shortly after, as the electron returned to its previous position, the exciton emitted a photon encoded with quantum information, thereby producing the desired quantum emitter.

The team also discovered that the tungsten diselenide atoms were emitting another type of quasiparticle, a phonon. Phonons, caused by atomic vibrations akin to breathing, were produced as the two atomic layers of the tungsten diselenide vibrated like tiny drumheads. This is the first instance of phonons being observed in a single photon emitter within such a two-dimensional atomic system.

The research team noted equally spaced peaks when measuring the spectrum of the emitted light. Each photon released by an exciton was coupled with one or more phonons, visually represented by the equally spaced peaks on the energy spectrum.

“Phonon is the inherent quantum vibration of the tungsten diselenide material, and it stretches the exciton electron-hole pair vertically across the two layers,” explained Li. “This has a dramatic impact on the optical properties of the photon emitted by the exciton, a phenomenon never reported before.”

The researchers investigated the potential of exploiting phonons for quantum technology. By applying electrical voltage, they observed changes in the interaction energy between the phonons and the emitted photons. This variation was controllable and measurable, pertinent to encoding quantum information into a single photon emission, and was achieved in one integrated system.

The team plans to scale up the system and build a waveguide – fibers on a chip that capture single photon emissions and guide them to their destination. They aim to control multiple emitters and their associated phonon states, rather than one at a time. This will enable the quantum emitters to communicate, contributing to the establishment of quantum circuitry.

“Our ultimate goal is to develop an integrated system with quantum emitters capable of utilizing single photons running through optical circuits and the newly discovered phonons for quantum computing and sensing,” Li said. “This breakthrough will significantly aid our efforts and foster the development of quantum computing, which is projected to have numerous applications in the future.”

The study, titled “Tunable phononic coupling in excitonic quantum emitters,” was authored by Adina Ripin, Ruoming Peng, Xiaowei Zhang, Srivatsa Chakravarthi, Minhao He, Xiaodong Xu, Kai-Mei Fu, Ting Cao, and Mo Li, and was published on 1 June 2023 in Nature Nanotechnology.

Additional co-authors of the study are Ruoming Peng, Xiaowei Zhang, Srivatsa Chakravarthi, Minhao He, Xiaodong Xu, Kai-Mei Fu, and Ting Cao.

The National Science Foundation provided funding for the study.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Quantum Technology Development

What is the main discovery in the research carried out at the University of Washington?

The main discovery is the phenomenon of atomic “breathing,” or mechanical vibrations between atomic layers, which could assist in encoding and transmitting quantum information.

Who led the research at the University of Washington?

The research was led by Mo Li, a professor of both electrical and computer engineering and physics at the University of Washington, and Adina Ripin, a doctoral physics student at the University.

What is the significance of atomic “breathing” in quantum technology?

Atomic “breathing” can potentially assist in the encoding and transmission of quantum data, making it an important factor in advancing quantum technology.

What is the role of the newly developed device in this research?

The researchers developed a device that can interact with atomic vibrations and light emissions. This device could serve as a fresh building block for quantum technologies.

What was the team’s approach to creating a quantum emitter?

The team worked with excitons, layered tungsten and selenium atoms on top of each other, and applied a precise pulse of laser light to generate an exciton quasiparticle. This exciton then emitted a photon encoded with quantum information, producing the quantum emitter.

What are the future plans of the research team?

The team plans to build a waveguide and scale up the system to control multiple quantum emitters and their associated phonon states, contributing to the establishment of quantum circuitry.

Who funded the study?

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation.

More about Quantum Technology Development

You may also like


GeorgeP June 20, 2023 - 2:23 am

wow! atomic breathing sounds like sci-fi stuff! Incredible what they’re doin in quantum tech.

TechFan123 June 20, 2023 - 7:41 am

i still dont get all this quantum stuff. but sounds like big news. Congrats to the team!

Jess_SciLover June 20, 2023 - 8:03 am

This is absolutely fantastic. Quantum tech is the future, right? i mean, it sounds so advanced…

Elena_T June 20, 2023 - 8:24 am

it’s mind blowing how they can detect and control vibrations at atomic level. Keep up the good work guys!

RickyQuantum June 20, 2023 - 7:05 pm

Li and Ripin are doing a stellar job. can’t wait for more on this…quantum computing will change everything.


Leave a Comment

* By using this form you agree with the storage and handling of your data by this website.

SciTechPost is a web resource dedicated to providing up-to-date information on the fast-paced world of science and technology. Our mission is to make science and technology accessible to everyone through our platform, by bringing together experts, innovators, and academics to share their knowledge and experience.


Subscribe my Newsletter for new blog posts, tips & new photos. Let's stay updated!

© 2023 SciTechPost