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A cavity containing a squeezed vacuum, developed at the California Institute of Tech in separate research. The University of Calgary and Tokyo Institute of Technology research uses a similar squeezed vaccum to store "less than nothing".  (Source: California Institute of Technology)
"Less than nothing" is the new zero

The world of quantum mechanics is filled with outlandish physical phenomena --  including everything from perpetual motion to teleportation.  Scientists have sought, in recent years, to exploit these phenomena to create the ultimate computing machine.  Such a computer, which would put even Intel or IBM's mightiest system to shame, holds the promise to solve certain types of very difficult, but very important problems. 

Scientists have made large advances including creating cables for quantum computers, developing quantum encryption techniques, and the development of the first commercial quantum computer by D-Wave, co-developed by NASA.  Much of the research into quantum computing involves using photons to store and convey information inside advanced computer systems.  However, light on an atomic scale behaves rather "spooky." 

On a silicon transistor scale, for the most part "on" or 1 means charged, and "off" or 0 means no charge.  On a quantum scale, on still means a charge, but "off" or absence of light still produces a lesser amount of atomic noise.  In other words, even if a photon is turned off, the quantum computer will still read a small amount of noise, disrupting measurements.

Scientists, after puzzling over this complex problem have come up with an outlandish solution -- creating a "squeezed vacuum" a space which has less than nothing, less noise than a space with no light.  Scientists managed to store and retrieve this "perfect dark" quantum zero.  The special vacuum is created by a laser beam directed through special crystals.  Squeezed vacuums have previously been created but not stored.  Typical uses are gravity wave detection. 

Teams of physicists at the University of Calgary and the Tokyo Institute of Technology independently demonstrated that a squeezed vacuum can be stored in a collection of rubidium atoms and retrieved when necessary.  The work appears in today's edition of the physics journal Physical Review Letters.  In it the researchers detail how they verified that the space remained squeezed when retrieved, compared to no light.

Alexander Lvovsky, professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, Canada Research Chair and leader of the University of Calgary's Quantum Information Technology research group, stated, "Memory for light has been a big challenge in physics for many years and I am very pleased we have been able to bring it one step further.  It is important not only for quantum computers, but may also provide new ways to make unbreakable codes for transmitting sensitive information."

The team's research followed Harvard-Smithsonian scientists' 2001 work that slowed light to a stop and physicist Alexander Kuzmich of the Georgia Institute of Technology's work, which led to a successful 2006 effort to store and retrieve a photon.  Kuzmich was enthusiastic about the new developments and said that the ability to squeeze space closer to an absolute zero in terms of noise promises to significantly aid in the development of quantum networks.  He marveled at the work and said of the progress, "It's a real technical achievement."

Lvovsky’s team next hopes to develop storage methods for more complex forms of light, such as entangled light, which can lead to exotic new uses and improvements in quantum computing.  




"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov



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