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Air Force takes table-top approach to quantum physics

  • Published
  • By Molly Lachance
  • Air Force Research Laboratory
Air Force Research Laboratory scientists can now study the mysteries of quantum physics in house and at a lower cost, thanks to a new high performance table-top quantum computing system.

With funding in part from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) and the DoD High Performance Computing Modernization Program, cold-atom technology developer, ColdQuanta, delivered two table-top Bose Einstein Condensate (BEC) systems--one in April 2014 and the second in September 2014--to a new facility jointly operated by AFRL and the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Within days of delivery, AFRL researchers were able to use the systems to trap and study the behavior of atoms in their condensed, pristine quantum state. The system works by laser-cooling rubidium-87 atoms to a temperature only a few billionths of a degree above absolute zero. At this temperature individual motion essentially stops and the atoms exhibit the same collective behavior, making observation possible.

Achieving this with traditional systems can take several years and millions of dollars in facilities, development and equipment.

Dr. Jeffrey Yepez, a researcher in AFRL's Directed Energy Directorate (AFRL/RD) and leader of the joint AFRL-UH Manoa quantum computing group, purchased the systems for future efforts in quantum simulation and high-performance computing experiments.

"Perhaps the most important reason for this quantum computing research is to explore the frontiers of theoretical and experimental quantum physics -- this gives AFRL a state-of-art capability for our in-house research," said Yepez.

ColdQuanta's development and delivery of a table-top version represents many years of hard work and consistent funding. Researchers had to miniaturize and simplify every aspect of a traditional BEC system including the vacuum chamber, lasers and atom-chip traps.

"This is a great story of both scientific and collaborative success for AFRL," said AFOSR program officer, Dr. Tatjana Curcic. "AFOSR has provided funding to ColdQuanta for years, but we also made the initial introduction and facilitated a relationship between Dr. Yepez at AFRL/RD in Maui and ColdQuanta."

Relationships like these are common throughout AFRL. AFOSR's management of basic research is about finding and funding great science, but it's also about the relationships and connections cultivated by AFOSR program officers.

AFOSR hosts over 50 meetings a year bringing together some of the best scientists from universities, industry and AFRL. Program officers invest time and effort developing relationships and connections hoping to see results just like this one.