In his cult classic “Ender’s Game,” Orson Scott Card envisioned a world in which Earth’s brightest and tragically youngest strategists could command armies across vast distances instantly using a device called an ansible.
While it is not yet known whether such a device will be possible, scientists at the US Department of Energy (DoE) Brookhaven National Laboratory this week detailed a “never-before-seen” type of quantum entanglement that they say could one day enable powerful new communication tools and computers.
Scientists have been trying to harness entangled quantum particles since the phenomenon was theorized in the early 20th century, and the topic has been a source of heated debate among physicists for decades. However, late last year, three scientists – Alain Aspect, John Clauser and Anton Zeilinger – were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on quantum entanglement.
A ‘new’ kind of quantum entanglement
Brookhaven’s latest discovery was made while exploring a novel means of investigating the inner workings of nucleatomics. The experiments described in the journal. Progress of scienceused the Brookhaven Heavy Ion Relativistic Collider to accelerate particles to near the speed of light.
Usually the collider would crush the gold particles. This would melt the boundaries between protons and neutrons and allow scientists to study quarks and gluons, two of the elementary particles that make up the nucleus of atoms, in an environment similar to that of the galaxy’s earliest moments.
But instead of crushing them, the gold particles were surrounded by a cloud of photons and allowed to pass each other.
According to Brookhaven, when they intersected, a series of quantum fluctuations caused by the interaction between photons and gluons produced a new particle that quickly decayed into a pair of charged pions. When measured, these pions allowed scientists to map the distributions of gluons within the nucleus of the atom.
in a blog postDaniel Brandenburg, a member of the STAR collaboration who worked on the project, said the technique works a bit like a scan in a doctor’s office, but instead of looking inside a patient’s brain, scientists look at the inner workings of the protons.
While taking these measurements, the scientists say they observed a curious phenomenon: a new type of quantum interference.
“We measure two outgoing particles and clearly their charges are different, they are different particles, but we see interference patterns that indicate these particles are entangled or in sync with each other, even though they are distinguishable particles,” said Zhangbu Xu, a physicist at Brookhaven National. Labs said in the blog post.
According to Brookhaven, most other entanglement observations have been between identical photons or electrons. “This is the first experimental observation of entanglement between different particles,” says Brandenburg.
What are the Russians looking for?
Brookhaven was one of three Department of Energy national laboratories attacked by Russian hackers over the summer.
According to ReutersBetween August and September, a cybercriminal group known as Cold River used phishing emails and fabricated login pages to harvest the credentials of employees at Brookhaven, Argonne, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories.
The facilities are home to a variety of nuclear research programs, including several related to the maintenance and development of the US strategic reserves.
While Reuters was able to confirm Cold River’s involvement with the help of five cybersecurity experts using fingerprints associated with the group, it was unable to determine whether the hackers were able to breach DoE defenses.
Cold River has previously had success compromising high-profile targets. One of the most of the group recent goals it was Richard Dearlove, former head of Britain’s foreign intelligence service MI6, whose emails were leaked in May.
A prelude to the quantum internet
The DoE’s various national laboratories have been investigating quantum mechanics, including practical applications of quantum entanglement, for years and have invested millions of dollars in the development of the quantum internet.
While not ansible, quantum networks take advantage of the properties of particles to encode data more efficiently than is possible using the binary 0s and 1s used in traditional computing. At least that’s the idea, anyway.
While efforts to build quantum networks are still in their infancy, several experiments have shown promise. In 2019 Brook Haven proven the transfer of entangled photons through a fiber network that stretches approximately 11 miles. At the time, it was the longest-distance quantum entanglement experiment to take place in the US.
More recently, researchers in the Netherlands presented the transmission of quantum information using an intermediary node, a feature they say is essential to enable the quantum internet. ®
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