Particle physics research

The potential of spatial quantum research

(The following article by our own Phil Merchant was originally posted on Dead Cat Live Cat’s blog and is shared here with our thanks to Dead Cat Live Cat.)

The words “space” and “quantum” appear together more frequently, and for good reason – a variety of space applications of quantum technology are already being deployed and commercialized, alongside an increase in patent applications filed in space quantum technology. .

From satellites using environmental monitoring equipment using quantum remote sensing to space-based quantum key distribution devices, the industrial and commercial potential of uniting space technology and quantum technology is indisputable.

Alongside these concrete industrial applications, space is also proving to be a valuable playground for research into quantum phenomena. The reason for this is that the space environment provides a unique low noise, low gravity environment. These properties of space can be intelligently exploited to explore the quantum properties of matter in conditions not possible on Earth and help scientists understand fundamental physics.

An example that demonstrates the opportunities offered by the space environment is the Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL) which is installed on the International Space Station.

This lab is a miniaturized version of a cold atom lab that one might find on earth, but existing on a single rack of the Station. CAL targets atoms with lasers to cool them to ultra-cold temperatures (on the order of milliKelvin). This allows the creation of an exotic state of matter called a Bose-Einstein condensate – it is a type of matter that exists when a group of particles becomes so cold that each atom occupies the same quantum state of highest energy. low. Since many such atoms occupy the same quantum state and are provided over a distributed area, this allows scientists to observe quantum mechanical properties on a macroscopic scale.

However, it is entirely possible to create and observe Bose-Einstein condensates here on Earth – the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded for the creation of BEC – so why go to the effort to experience in the space ?

The answer lies in the opportunities offered by microgravity. Having an environment that is effectively weightless allows physicists to achieve experimental conditions that are difficult or impossible to achieve on Earth – for example, the condensate could be shaped into a hollow sphere, disk or other shape. By observing the behavior of bosons in these geometries, fundamental aspects of quantum physics can be probed, such as the behavior of particles in one, two or three dimensions. The presence of gravity imposes further limitations on quantum experiments – for example, the optical components used to trap and cool atoms can be affected by gravity. Since the strength of the trap is limited by the presence of gravity, placing an experimental facility in the microgravity domain of space can reduce this limitation and allow atoms to be cooled to even lower temperatures.

CAL’s creators aren’t the only ones realizing the opportunities space offers for quantum research. A 2019 white paper published by QTSpace highlighted “fundamental physics” as one of the main areas of quantum technology in space, referring to a variety of upcoming and ongoing technology-focused research efforts. quantum in space.

We live in a time when access to space technologies and quantum technologies is becoming easier and cheaper. This presents an exciting opportunity for groundbreaking new experiences in the near future. As we delve even deeper into fundamental physics, we can hopefully tempt the universe to reveal more of its secrets.