Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/05/07/quantum_giant_atoms_thing/

Boffins snare swollen 'excited giant' in forcefield prison

Ponderomotive prison cells could make quantum computers

By Lewis Page

Posted in Science, 7th May 2010 10:54 GMT

Boffins in Michigan say they have created a promising "quantum gate" for use in literally and figuratively hard-to-grasp quantum computers of the future.

The scientists achieved this, put simply, by tickling a soft-metal Rubidium atom with frikkin laser beams until its outer valence shell became highly excited and the atom swelled up to giant size - 100 times as big as normal, though obviously, being an atom, still pretty tiny. Atoms in this condition are known as "Rydberg" atoms, after the 19th century Swede famous for swelling to giant size after being hit by an energy ray his knowledge of exotic atoms.

Having created their freakish, excited giant the boffins snared it in a "crate made of interfering laser beams" according to a statement released by Michigan uni. This optical lattice force cage affair works by seizing the atom's embulgenated outer valence shell using a "ponderomotive force" field.

"The laser field holds on to the electron, which behaves almost as if it were free, but the residual weak atomic binding force still holds the atom together. In effect, the entire atom is trapped by the lasers," explains Georg Raithel, Michigan physics prof.

Such excited giant trapped atoms would apparently be ideal for use in "neural atom quantum computing schemes". Quantum computers, working on "qubits" which are not 1 or 0 but could be either or any value between, have long been a goal of boffinry. This is because, once built, they would be able to do various intriguing things - breaking crypto nowadays considered uncrackable, for example.

Raithel and his team have a new paper out on their atom-bulgening ponderomotive field prison in the current Physical Review Letters. Their website is here. ®