How do you cool down further what’s already super cool? By bending the laws of physics, of course! For the first time, physicists cooled a mechanical object below the minimum temperature limit called the “quantum limit.” They achieved this feat by chilling a microscopic mechanical drum to an unprecedented 360 microKelvin, which is about 10,000 times colder than the vacuum of space. Thus, they have achieved the lowest temperature known to humanity!
Team leader John Teufel from the US National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colorado, spoke on the discovery,
“It’s much colder than any naturally occurring temperature anywhere in the Universe.”
Another researcher, José Aumentado, added in a press release.
“The results were a complete surprise to experts in the field.”
The little mechanical drum was created using a vibrating aluminum membrane. The researchers managed to take the temperature to less than one-fifth of a single quantum (a single packet of energy contained in a photon) lower, which defied all common laws of physics.
Now the team has concluded that the technique is so powerful that it can theoretically be used to cool objects to absolute zero, which is the temperature at which matter is devoid of all energy and motion.
Usually, a laser can slow down the motion of atoms, to dampen the thermal vibrations and thus decrease overall temperature. However, with the introduction of the new technique which uses a ‘squeezed’ light; the atoms will become much colder than what was previously possible.
This Squeezed light is more organized in one direction compared to another, which removes the quantum noise/ fluctuations. Previously quantum cryptography used the same technique quite often in its applications, but this is the first time it has been applied to cool something down, and with sterling effects.
Formerly, the noise was considered to define the quantum limit when trying to cool an object, but the concept of squeezing light has smashed that to pieces.
“Noise gives random kicks or heating to the thing you’re trying to cool,” said Teufel. We are squeezing the light at a ‘magic’ level – in a very specific direction and amount – to make perfectly correlated photons with more stable intensity. These photons are both fragile and powerful.”
These results can lead to the creation of super-fast electronics of the future. The drum instrument was 20 micrometers in diameter and 100 nanometres thick embedded in a superconducting circuit. This size of the drum is fed in quantum computers combining quantum and mechanical elements which get quicker and more accurate as you cool them down.
“The colder you can get the drum, the better it is for any application,” said Teufel. Sensors would become more sensitive. You can store information longer. If you were using it in a quantum computer, then you would compute without distortion, and you would actually get the answer you want.”
This discovery shakes up the very tenants of quantum mechanics. As it is always with science, what is once unthinkable soon turns out to be just a scratch at the surface. The research has been published in Nature.
How do you think this discovery can help in the present-day applications? Comment below!