Quantum motor with just two atoms

Tom James @ 19-09-2009

Quantum-motorResearchers at the University of Augsburg in Germany have developed a blueprint for a kind of quantum electric motor that uses just two atoms:

Their motor consists of one neutral atom and one charged atom trapped in a ring-shaped optical lattice. The atoms jump from one site in the lattice to the next as they travel round the ring. Placing this ring in an alternating magnetic field creates the conditions necessary to keep the charged atom moving round the the ring.

As with many elements of quantum physics it is difficult to imagine precisely what you could do with such a miniscule motor, but for the time being the researchers are seeking to attach the motor to a nanonoscopic resonator, thus making the resonator vibrate.

In the meantime we are left speculating as to what peculiar corners of which unexpected futures devices such as this could find a use and a narrative.

[via Slashdot, from Technology Review][image from Technology Review]

Quantum superposition breakthrough

Tom James @ 29-05-2009

theory_actualA rich seam of technological and science-fictional ideas seem ready to be mined with the development of the first light trap that can simultaneously store different numbers of photons:

“These superposition states are a fundamental concept in quantum mechanics, but this is the first time they have been controllably created with light,” Cleland said. Martinis added, “This experiment can be thought of as a quantum digital-to-analog converter.” As digital-to-analog converters are key components in classical communication devices (for example, producing the sound waveforms in cell phones), this experiment might enable more advanced communication protocols for the transmission of quantum information.

The research is funded by IARPA. Intelligence services are understandably keen to learn more about the potential for quantum computers to break conventionally encrypted communications.

[image and story from Physorg]

God of the gaps and the limits of science

Tom James @ 06-05-2009

thoughtAcademic Jon Taplin highlights this WSJ piece on quantum entanglement and the theories of French physicist Bernard d’Espagnat:

In March, the 87-year-old Frenchman won the prestigious $1.5 million Templeton Prize for years of work affirming “life’s spiritual dimension.”

Based on quantum behavior, Dr. d’Espagnat’s big idea is that science can only probe so far into what is real, and there’s a “veiled reality” that will always elude us.

Many scientists disagree. While Dr. d’Espagnat concedes that he can’t prove his theory, he argues that it’s about the notion of mystery. “The emotions you get from listening to Mozart,” he says, “are like the faint glimpses of ultimate reality we get” from quantum experiments. “I claim nothing more.”

I am not familiar with Prof. d’Espagnat’s work. Is he talking about the God of the gaps or the Popperian problem of induction?

[image from P/\UL on flickr]

Quantum cognition: spooky action in word recall

Tom James @ 24-02-2009

fractal_networkA fascinating article here at Physorg on how human beings remember and recall words. Researchers at Queensland University of Technology and the University of South Florida compare two ways of thinking about connections between similar words 1) Networks of similar words and 2) something analogous to spooky action at a distance:

…the researchers suggest that the probability of a word being activated in memory lies somewhere between Spreading Activation (in which words are individually recalled based on individually calculated conceptual distance) and Spooky Activation at a Distance (in which the cue word simultaneously activates the entire associative structure).

Most likely, Spreading Activation underestimates the strength of activation, while Spooky Activation at a Distance overestimates the strength of activation.

The researchers are using quantum physics as an preexisting abstract framework for their mathematical models for how human beings remember:

In the new model, associative word recall probability depends on how strongly connected the associated words are to each other.

For instance, “Earth” and “space” are entangled in the context of “planet,” but “Earth” and “gas giant” may not be entangled (though “Jupiter” and “gas giant” may be).

Words that are entangled with many other words have a greater probability of being recalled, while words that are entangled with few or no other words have a smaller recall probability.

At this stage this is theoretical, but the long-term consideration is for the development of AI and similar technologies:

As our information environment becomes more complex, we will need technology that can draw context-sensitive associations like the ones we would draw, but increasingly don’t as we lack the cognitive resources to do so.

Therefore, such the ‘meanings’ processed by such technology should be motivated from a socio-cognitive perspective.” This kind of research is an example of an emerging field called “quantum cognition,” the aim of which is to use quantum theory to develop radically new models of a variety of cognitive phenomena ranging from human memory to decision making.

Plenty of beef for the science-fictional burger bar.

[image from zeroinfluencer on flickr]

Matter is actually just fluctuations in the quantum vacuum

Paul Raven @ 21-11-2008

Another classic case of the headline saying it all: physicists have confirmed that matter is no more than fluctuations in the quantum vacuum. Everything is arguably illusory, including ourselves. All of a sudden I have a vision of Terence McKenna muttering Beatles lyrics to the hyperspace elves in between fits of gently manic laughter…

And while we’re in brain-bending existential scientific headf*ck territory, why don’t we all get behind conceptual artist Jonathon Keats and his plan to turn the contents of a nuclear waste dump into a massive machine for generating new universes?

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