In the classic “Ender’s Game,” Orson Scott Card imagined a world where Earth’s smartest and youngest tactician could lead armies across vast distances instantly using a device called the Ansible.
While the jury is still out on whether such a device would ever be possible, scientists at the US Department of Energy (DoE) Brookhaven National Laboratory this week detailed a “unprecedented” type of quantum entanglement that they say could make it possible. One day enabling powerful new communications tools and computers.
Scientists have been trying to harness quantum entangled 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 — Alan Aspect, John Clauser, and Anton Zellinger — were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on quantum entanglement.
A “new” type of quantum entanglement
Brookhaven’s latest discoveries were made while exploring a new means of probing the inner workings of atomic nuclei. The experiments, described in the journal Science Advances, used the Brookhaven Heavy Relativistic Ion Collider to accelerate particles to nearly the speed of light.
Normally, the collider smashes gold particles together. This would dissolve the boundaries between protons and neutrons and allow scientists to study quarks and gluons – two of the elementary particles that make up the nuclei of atoms – in an environment similar to that in the galaxy’s earliest moments.
But instead of being smashed together, the gold particles were surrounded by a cloud of photons and some were allowed to pass through.
According to Brookhaven, as they passed each other, a series of quantum fluctuations generated by the interaction between photons and gluons produced a new particle that rapidly decayed into a pair of charged pions. When measured, these pions allowed the scientists to map the distributions of gluons within the atomic nucleus.
In a blog post, Daniel Brandenburg, a STAR collaboration member who worked on the project, said the technology is a bit like a scan in a doctor’s office, but instead of seeing inside a patient’s brain, scientists are looking at the inner workings of protons.
While making these measurements, scientists say they’ve noticed a strange phenomenon – a new type of quantum interference.
“We measure two particles outside and they obviously have different charges — they’re different particles — but we see interference patterns that indicate that these particles are entangled or synchronized with each other, even though they are distinguishable particles,” Zhangbo Xu, a physicist at Brookhaven National Labs in the US, said. blog post.
According to Brookhaven, most other observations of entanglement have been between identical photons or electrons. “This is the first experimental observation of entanglement between dissimilar particles,” Brandenburg claims.
What are the Russians looking for?
Brookhaven was one of three DOE National Labs targeted by Russian hackers over the summer.
According to Reuters, between August and September, a group of cybercriminals known as Cold River used phishing emails and fabricated login pages to obtain employee credentials from Brookhaven, Argonne, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories.
The facilities are home to a variety of nuclear research programs including many related to the maintenance and development of the US Strategic Stockpile.
While Reuters was able to confirm Cold River’s involvement with the help of five cybersecurity experts using digital fingerprints associated with the group, it was unable to determine if the hackers were able to penetrate the DOE’s defenses.
Cold River had previously had success compromising high-profile targets. One of the group’s recent targets was Richard Dearlove, the former head of Britain’s foreign intelligence service, MI6, whose emails were leaked in May.
An introduction to the quantum internet
Various DOE National Laboratories have been digging into quantum mechanics including the practical applications of quantum entanglement for years now and have invested millions of dollars in developing the quantum internet.
While not unacceptable, quantum networks take advantage of the properties of particles to encode data more efficiently than is possible with the binary numbers and zeros used in conventional 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, Brookhaven demonstrated the transmission of entangled photons through a fiber network spanning about 11 miles. At the time, the longest-running quantum entanglement experiment was taking place in the United States.
Recently, researchers in the Netherlands demonstrated the transmission of quantum information using an intermediate node, a feature they say is essential to enabling the quantum internet. ®
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