Quantum simulation: tracking down the secrets of the microcosm

The interactions of atoms with laser light play a central role in quantum physics experiments. © Mikhail Rudenko/iStock

Physics of a special kind in sight: The cover story of the May issue of bild der Wissenschaft is dedicated to research into the mysterious quantum world. The focus is on a concept that can make it easier to deal with the enormous complexity of the systems: quantum simulation enables new insights into the bizarre effects in the microcosm and thus creates the basis for technical applications.

Bizarre, seemingly magical effects: the complex behavior of matter in the size range of atoms and their components amazes. In recent years, quantum physics has become an increasingly important field of research and has come into the public eye. Because it forms the basis for understanding phenomena in the different areas of physics. In addition, quantum physics research can lead to the development of sophisticated applications: from laser techniques to the creation of novel materials and drugs to quantum computers.

Complex challenges

In the first article of the three-part title topic “Quantum Simulation”, bdw editor Ralf Butscher first takes the reader to the laboratories of the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Garching. In order to investigate the effects of the quantum world, researchers there are conducting complex experiments: for example, they are investigating the interaction of atoms with laser light. The author once again illustrates the astonishing phenomena that characterize quantum mechanics: A quantum object – such as an electron – can take on different properties at the same time. To put it simply, it can rotate both left and right.

Such complex phenomena pose enormous challenges to the study of quantum physics, explains Butcher. Because the effects can hardly be reproduced even by the power of supercomputers. In order to make it easier to look behind the curtain of the quantum cosmos, the researchers are now using so-called quantum simulation. Butscher describes what this experimental instrument is all about and how it can enable the research of even highly complex systems made up of several quantum particles. The development of applications can also benefit: special forms of atomic quantum simulations could be used for quantum computers, for example, according to the article “The Quantum Arena”.

Quantum gas microscopy and application potential

Butscher then focuses on a particularly exciting instrument in quantum physics research: the quantum gas microscope. This sophisticated technique makes it possible to observe the behavior of particles such as atoms or molecules in detail. The author describes how in the system, particles are prepared in one plane of a light grid at extremely low temperatures and can then be examined with a high-resolution lens. Quantum gas microscope technology has also undergone significant further development recently, opening up new, exciting investigation possibilities, reports Butscher in the article “Atoms in the Sights”.

The third part of the title topic focuses on the potential of quantum simulation for the development of applications that sometimes appear futuristic. The method could therefore advance research into substances whose bizarre properties are based on quantum physical effects. Butscher is focusing on the development of superconductors that conduct electrical current without loss at room temperature and could thus lead to a more efficient supply. The technology could also open up future potential for the chemical industry and pharmaceutical research. The properties of catalysts and drugs also have to do with quantum physical effects, according to the article “Hot Traces”.

You can read the articles on the cover topic “Quantum Simulation” online as part of a bdw+ subscription, or you can find them in the May issue of bild der Wissenschaft, which will be available in stores from April 19th.

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