The new device opens the door to storing quantum information such as sound waves

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Quantum computing, just like traditional computing, needs a way to store the information it uses and processes. On the computer you’re using right now, information—whether it’s photos of your dog, a birthday reminder from a friend, or the words you’re typing into your browser’s address bar—must be stored somewhere. Quantum computing, being a new field, is still figuring out where and how to store quantum information.

In an article published in the magazine Physics of nature, Mohammad Mirhosseini, assistant professor of electrical engineering and applied physics, demonstrates a new method developed by his laboratory for efficiently translating electrical quantum states into sound and vice versa. This type of translation may allow for the storage of quantum information prepared by future quantum computers, which will likely consist of electrical circuits.

This method uses so-called phonons, the sonic equivalent of a particle of light called a photon. (Remember that in quantum mechanics all waves are particles and vice versa). The experiment studies phonons for storing quantum information because it is relatively easy to build small devices capable of storing these mechanical waves.

To understand how a sound wave can store information, imagine an extremely echoing room. Now, suppose you need to remember your shopping list for the afternoon, so you open the door to that room and yell, “Eggs, bacon, and milk!” and close the door. An hour later, when it’s time to go grocery shopping, you open the door, poke your head in, and hear your own voice still echoing: “Eggs, bacon, and milk!” You just used sound waves to store information.

Of course, in the real world, such an echo wouldn’t last very long and your voice could sound so distorted that you can’t hear your own words anymore, not to mention that using an entire room to memorizing some data would be ridiculous. The research team’s solution is a tiny device made of flexible plates that are vibrated by sound waves at extremely high frequencies. When an electric charge is placed on those plates, they become able to interact with electrical signals that carry quantum information. This allows that information to be fed into the device for storage and ejected for later use, not unlike the door to the room you were yelling through at the beginning of this story.

According to Mohammad Mirhosseini, previous studies had investigated a special type of materials known as piezoelectrics as a means of converting mechanical energy into electrical energy in quantum applications.

“These materials, however, tend to cause energy losses for electric and sound waves, and loss is a big killer in the quantum world,” says Mirhosseini. In contrast, the new method developed by Mirhosseini and his team is independent of specific material properties, making it compatible with established quantum devices, which rely on microwaves.

Creating effective storage devices in a small footprint has been another practical challenge for researchers working on quantum applications, says Alkim Bozkurt, a graduate student in Mirhosseini’s group and the paper’s lead author.

‘However, our method allows the storage of quantum information from electrical circuits for durations two orders of magnitude longer than in other compact mechanical devices,’ he adds.

Study co-authors include Chaitali Joshi and Han Zhao, both postdoctoral scholars in electrical engineering and applied physics; and Peter Day and Henry LeDuc, who are scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which Caltech manages for NASA.

More information:
Alkim Bozkurt et al, A quantum electromechanical interface for long-lived phonons, Physics of nature (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41567-023-02080-w.

About the magazine:
Physics of nature

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