Modern Jedi Physicists Freeze Light In Mid-Air: Bringing Quantum Computers Closer To Reality

Bethink that a scene in "The Force Awakens" where the dark side warrior "Kylo Ren" halts a laser blast in mid-air? In a Canberra laboratory, physicists have controlled a science magic: they have frozen a moving light in a cloud of ultracold atoms.

This discovery could help bring ocular quantum computers from sci-fi movies to reality.The test and research, reported in a paper this week, was encouraged by a computer excitement run by lead researcher Jesse Everett from the Australian National University. The physicist used a vaporized cloud of "ultracold rubidium atoms" to create a light trap, into which they shone infrared lasers. The light trap continuously emitted and re-captured the light.

"It's clear that the light is trapped - there are photons circulating around the atoms," Everett says. "The atoms absorbed some of the trapped light, but a substantial proportion of the photons were frozen inside the atomic cloud."

Co-researcher Geoff Campbell from ANU explained that while photons commonly pass by each other at the speed of light without any interactions, atoms interact with each other more freely.

"Corralling a crowd of photons in a cloud of ultra-cold atoms creates more opportunities for them to interact," Campbell says.

Optical quantum computers could connect easily with fiber optics and revolutionize the way we manage big data in fields such as medicine, defense, telecommunications and financial services.

"Optical quantum computing is still a long way off, but our successful experiment to stop light gets us further along the road," says Everett.

Earlier this year, a team of physicists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Innsbruck in Austria announced Friday that they had built the world's first scalable quantum computer, paving the path for the creation of a device with a large number of "qubits" - the quantum computing equivalents of bits. 

The study appears this week in Nature Physics. The researchers talk more about their work and its possibilities in the video below.

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