Single Atom Quantum Memory

The storage and regeneration of quantum qubits is is essential for the development of quantum computing and communications systems. Today, Holger Specht and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany, have found a way to store the qubit from a polarized photon in a single atom of rubidium and then release it again later.


(Single Atom Quantum Memory)
a, A single atom (1) (the inset shows a typical fluorescence image) is trapped at the centre of a high-finesse optical cavity using a far-detuned standing-wave dipole trap (2). b, An impinging weak coherent pulse (3) with arbitrary polarization is converted into an atomic spin excitation using a pi-polarized pump laser (4). c, This maps the photonic polarization qubit onto a long-lived superposition of the ground states of the atom. d, After a variable storage time, the polarization qubit is retrieved by the production of a single photon (5).

The trick here is first to find an atom with the suitable two-level state that will absorb photons in the right way and second, to find a way to force the photon to give up its qubit to the atom.

It turns out that rubidium has the just right energy levels. Specht and co force the atom and photon to interact by trapping them in a high quality mirrored cavity in which the photon can enter but not easily escape. It then rebounds inside until it gives up its goods to the atom.

To accept the qubit, the atom first has to be placed in the right state by a weak laser beam. A second laser beam later forces the atom to spit out the qubit in the form of an identical polarised photon.

The result is a single atom memory that can read, store and write quantum information.

The notion that a single atom could be used as a storage device is one that I first encountered while reading science fiction. In his 1951 novel Between Planets, Robert Heinlein writes about a molecule matrix:

"It is theoretically possible to have a matrix in which each individual molecule has a meaning - as they do in the memory cells of your brain. If we had such subtlety, we could wrap your Encyclopedia Britannica into the head of a pin - it would be the head of that pin..."
(Read more about Heinlein's molecule matrix)

ReadmTechnology Review for more details.

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