David Kirkpatrick

August 23, 2010

Making graphene electronics friendly

Electronics is a very attractive application for both carbon nanotubes and graphene, but graphene is proving fairly stubborn to working out in real world deployment. This news out of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory sounds very promising.

From the link:

Structural loops that sometimes form during a graphene cleaning process can render the material unsuitable for electronic applications. Overcoming these types of problems is of great interest to the electronics industry.

“Graphene is a rising star in the materials world, given its potential for use in precise electronic components like transistors or other semiconductors,” said Bobby Sumpter, a staff scientist at ORNL.

The team used quantum  to simulate an experimental graphene cleaning process, as discussed in a paper published in . Calculations performed on ORNL supercomputers pointed the researchers to an overlooked intermediate step during processing.

Imaging with a transmission electron microscope, or TEM, subjected the graphene to electron irradiation, which ultimately prevented loop formation. The ORNL simulations showed that by injecting  to collect an image, the electrons were simultaneously changing the material’s structure.

Scientists help explain graphene mystery

ORNL simulations demonstrate how loops (seen above in blue) between graphene layers can be minimized using electron irradiation (bottom).

April 22, 2010

Quantum computing improvement

This is the first quantum computing post in a couple of months. This is a promising finding.

The release:

Bizarre matter could find use in quantum computers

Rice physicists: Odd electron mix has fault-tolerant quantum registry

IMAGE: From left, Rice physicist Rui-Rui Du, graduate students Chi Zhang and Yanhua Dai, and former postdoctoral researcher Tauno Knuuttila (not pictured) have found that odd groupings of ultracold electrons could…

Click here for more information.

HOUSTON — (April 21, 2010) — There are enticing new findings this week in the worldwide search for materials that support fault-tolerant quantum computing. New results from Rice University and Princeton University indicate that a bizarre state of matter that acts like a particle with one-quarter electron charge also has a “quantum registry” that is immune to information loss from external perturbations.

The research appeared online April 21 in Physical Review Letters. The team of physicists found that ultracold mixes of electrons caught in magnetic traps could have the necessary properties for constructing fault-tolerant quantum computers — future computers that could be far more powerful than today’s computers. The mixes of electrons are dubbed “5/2 quantum Hall liquids” in reference to the unusual quantum properties that describe their makeup.

“The big goal, the whole driving force, besides deep academic curiosity, is to build a quantum computer out of this,” said the study’s lead author Rui-Rui Du, professor of physics at Rice. “The key for that is whether these 5/2 liquids have ‘topological’ properties that would render them immune to the sorts of quantum perturbations that could cause information degradation in a quantum computer.”

Du said the team’s results indicate the 5/2 liquids have the desired properties. In the parlance of condensed-matter physics, they are said to represent a “non-Abelian” state of matter.

Non-Abelian is a mathematical term for a system with “noncommutative” properties. In math, commutative operations, like addition, are those that have the same outcome regardless of the order in which they are carried out. So, one plus two equals three, just as two plus one equals three. In daily life, commutative and noncommutative tasks are commonplace. For example, when doing the laundry, it doesn’t matter if the detergent is added before the water or the water before the detergent, but it does matter if the clothes are washed before they’re placed in the dryer.

“It will take a while to fully understand the complete implications of our results, but it is clear that we have nailed down the evidence for ‘spin polarization,’ which is one of the two necessary conditions that must be proved to show that the 5/2 liquids are non-Abelian,” Du said. “Other research teams have been tackling the second condition, the one-quarter charge, in previous experiments.”

The importance of the noncommutative quantum properties is best understood within the context of fault-tolerant quantum computers, a fundamentally new type of computer that hasn’t been built yet.

Computers today are binary. Their electrical circuits, which can be open or closed, represent the ones and zeros in binary bits of information. In quantum computers, scientists hope to use “quantum bits,” or qubits. Unlike binary ones and zeros, the qubits can be thought of as little arrows that represent the position of a bit of quantum matter. The arrow might represent a one if it points straight up or a zero if it points straight down, but it could also represent any number in between. In physics parlance, these arrows are called quantum “states.” And for certain complex calculations, being able to represent information in many different states would present a great advantage over binary computing.

The upshot of the 5/2 liquids being non-Abelian is that they have a sort of “quantum registry,” where information doesn’t change due to external quantum perturbations.

“In a way, they have internal memory of their previous state,” Du said.

The conditions needed to create the 5/2 liquids are extreme. At Rice, Tauno Knuuttila, a former postdoctoral research scientist in Du’s group, spent several years building the “demagnetization refrigerator” needed to cool 5-millimeter squares of ultrapure semiconductors to within one-10,000th of a degree of absolute zero. It took a week for Knuuttila to simply cool the nearly one-ton instrument to the necessary temperature for the Rice experiments.

The gallium arsenide semiconductors used in the tests are the most pure on the planet. They were created by Loren Pfieiffer, Du’s longtime collaborator at Princeton and Bell Labs. Rice graduate student Chi Zhang conducted additional tests at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee, Fla., to verify that the 5/2 liquid was spin- polarized.

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Study co-authors include Zhang, Knuuttila, Pfeiffer, Princeton’s Ken West and Rice’s Yanhua Dai. The research is supported by the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and the Keck Foundation.

April 18, 2010

Carbon nanotubes and new states of matter

Now this is some fascinating research on carbon nanotube properties.

From the link:

“For the first time, fields of study relating both to cold atoms and to the nanoscale have intersected,” Lene Vestergaard Hau tells PhysOrg.com. “Even though both have been active areas of research, cold atoms have not been brought together with nanoscale structures at the single nanometer level. This is a totally new system.”

Hau is the Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Harvard University. Along with colleague J.A. Golovchenko, and graduate students Anne Goodsell and Trygve Ristroph, who are in her lab at Harvard, Hau was able to set up an experiment that allows for the observation of capture and field ionization of cold atoms. Their work can be found in : “Field  of Cold Atoms near the Wall of a Single Carbon Nanotube.”

And:

“When the electron is pulled in, it goes through a tunneling process,” Hau explains. “It has to go through areas that are classically forbidden. The process is quantum mechanical. We can observe the interaction of the atom and the nanotube as the electron is trying to tunnel, and this offers us a chance to peek at some of the interesting dynamics that happen at the nanoscale.”

Another possibility is that this combination of cold atoms with  could lead to new states of matter. “Since we now know how to suck atoms into orbit at such high spin rates, it could lead to a new state of cold-atomic matter that could be super interesting to study,” Hau points out.

Practical applications?:

Practically, this new system has potential as well. “We could make very sensitive detectors,” Hau says. “Things like ‘atom sniffers’ that detect trace gases could be an application for this work. Additionally, the possibility of single nanometer precision means super high spatial resolution. This system could be used in interferometers — interferometers built on a single chip and based on , which would be of importance for navigation, for example.”

For the raw material, here’s the release the linked article sprung from.

February 27, 2010

Getting closer to a quantum computer

Another incremental step toward functional quantum computing. We don’t need quantum computing just yet, but we will.

The release:

UW-Madison physicists build basic quantum computing circuit

MADISON — Exerting delicate control over a pair of atoms within a mere seven-millionths-of-a-second window of opportunity, physicists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison created an atomic circuit that may help quantum computing become a reality.

Quantum computing represents a new paradigm in information processing that may complement classical computers. Much of the dizzying rate of increase in traditional computing power has come as transistors shrink and pack more tightly onto chips — a trend that cannot continue indefinitely.

“At some point in time you get to the limit where a single transistor that makes up an electronic circuit is one atom, and then you can no longer predict how the transistor will work with classical methods,” explains UW-Madison physics professor Mark Saffman. “You have to use the physics that describes atoms — quantum mechanics.”

At that point, he says, “you open up completely new possibilities for processing information. There are certain calculational problems… that can be solved exponentially faster on a quantum computer than on any foreseeable classical computer.”

With fellow physics professor Thad Walker, Saffman successfully used neutral atoms to create what is known as a controlled-NOT (CNOT) gate, a basic type of circuit that will be an essential element of any quantum computer. As described in the Jan. 8 issue of the journal Physical Review Letters, the work is the first demonstration of a quantum gate between two uncharged atoms.

The use of neutral atoms rather than charged ions or other materials distinguishes the achievement from previous work. “The current gold standard in experimental quantum computing has been set by trapped ions… People can run small programs now with up to eight ions in traps,” says Saffman.

However, to be useful for computing applications, systems must contain enough quantum bits, or qubits, to be capable of running long programs and handling more complex calculations. An ion-based system presents challenges for scaling up because ions are highly interactive with each other and their environment, making them difficult to control.

“Neutral atoms have the advantage that in their ground state they don’t talk to each other, so you can put more of them in a small region without having them interact with each other and cause problems,” Saffman says. “This is a step forward toward creating larger systems.”

The team used a combination of lasers, extreme cold (a fraction of a degree above absolute zero), and a powerful vacuum to immobilize two rubidium atoms within “optical traps.” They used another laser to excite the atoms to a high-energy state to create the CNOT quantum gate between the two atoms, also achieving a property called entanglement in which the states of the two atoms are linked such that measuring one provides information about the other.

Writing in the same journal issue, another team also entangled neutral atoms but without the CNOT gate. Creating the gate is advantageous because it allows more control over the states of the atoms, Saffman says, as well as demonstrating a fundamental aspect of an eventual quantum computer.

The Wisconsin group is now working toward arrays of up to 50 atoms to test the feasibility of scaling up their methods. They are also looking for ways to link qubits stored in atoms with qubits stored in light with an eye toward future communication applications, such as “quantum internets.”

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This work was funded by grants from the National Science Foundation, the Army Research Office and the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency.

February 18, 2010

Graphene replacing silicon — is it “when” and not “if?”

Not quite yet, but headway is being made in making graphene the successor to silicon as the semiconductor for electronics. I first blogged about graphene replacing silicon back in late March 2008 (this blog wasn’t even three months old at the time — hit the link and dig the crazy layout I was using for KurzweilAI posts).

From the first link, the latest news — both good and bad — in making graphene the semiconductor of choice:

“Graphene has been the subject of intense focus and research for a few years now,” Philip Kim tells PhysOrg.com. “There are researchers that feel that it is possible that graphene could replace silicon as a semiconductor in electronics.”

Kim is a scientist at Columbia University in New York City. He has been working with Melinda Han and Juliana Brant to try and come up with a way to make  a feasible replacement for silicon. Toward that end, they have been looking at ways to overcome some of the problems associated with using graphene as a semiconductor in . They set forth some ideas for electron transport for graphene in : “ in Disordered Graphene Nanoribbons.”

“Graphene has high mobility, and less scattering than silicon. Theoretically, it is possible to make smaller structures that are more stable at the nanolevel than those made from silicon,” Kim says. He points out that as electronics continue to shrink in size, the interest in finding viable alternatives to silicon is likely to increase. Graphene is a good candidate because of the high  it offers, its stability on such a small scale, and the possibility that one could come up with different device concepts for electronics.

And here’s a bonus fun graphene graphic from the link:

Graphene A

Graphene is an atomic-scale honeycomb lattice made of carbon atoms. By Dr. Thomas Szkopek, via Wikipedia

August 16, 2009

More cloaking news

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 11:03 pm

This isn’t really on my typical topic of invisibility cloaks, but it is a very interesting cloaking technology.

The release:

A new cloaking method

This is not a ‘Star Trek’ or ‘Harry Potter’ story

IMAGE: Graeme Milton, a distinguished professor of mathematics at the University of Utah, is the senior author of two newly published studies outlining the numerical and theoretical basis for a new…

Click here for more information. 

SALT LAKE CITY, Aug. 17, 2009 – University of Utah mathematicians developed a new cloaking method, and it’s unlikely to lead to invisibility cloaks like those used by Harry Potter or Romulan spaceships in “Star Trek.” Instead, the new method someday might shield submarines from sonar, planes from radar, buildings from earthquakes, and oil rigs and coastal structures from tsunamis.

“We have shown that it is numerically possible to cloak objects of any shape that lie outside the cloaking devices, not just from single-frequency waves, but from actual pulses generated by a multi-frequency source,” says Graeme Milton, senior author of the research and a distinguished professor of mathematics at the University of Utah.

“It’s a brand new method of cloaking,” Milton adds. “It is two-dimensional, but we believe it can be extended easily to three dimensions, meaning real objects could be cloaked. It’s called active cloaking, which means it uses devices that actively generate electromagnetic fields rather than being composed of ‘metamaterials’ [exotic metallic substances] that passively shield objects from passing electromagnetic waves.”

Milton says his previous research involved “just cloaking clusters of small particles, but now we are able to cloak larger objects.”

IMAGE: These images are from animated computer simulations of a new method — developed by University of Utah mathematicians — for cloaking objects from waves of all sorts. While the new…

Click here for more information. 

For example, radar microwaves have wavelengths of about four inches, so Milton says the study shows it is possible to use the method to cloak from radar something 10 times wider, or 40 inches. That raises hope for cloaking larger objects. So far, the largest object cloaked from microwaves in actual experiments was an inch-wide copper cylinder.

A study demonstrating the mathematical feasibility of the new cloaking technique – active, broadband, exterior cloaking – was published online today in the journal Optics Express. A related paper was published online Aug. 14 in Physical Review Letters.

Milton conducted the studies with Fernando Guevara Vasquez and Daniel Onofrei, both of whom are assistant professors-lecturers in mathematics. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the University of Utah.

Cloaking: From Science Fiction to Science

Cloaking involves making an object partly or completely invisible to incoming waves – sound waves, sea waves, and seismic waves, but usually electromagnetic waves such as visible light, microwaves, infrared light, radio and TV waves.

Cloaking things from visible light long has been a staple of science fiction, from invisible Romulan Bird of Prey warships in “Star Trek” to cloaking devices in books, games, films and shows like “Harry Potter,” “Halo,” “Predator,” and “Stargate.”

In recent years, scientists devised and tested various cloaking schemes. They acknowledge practical optical cloaking for invisibility is many years away. Experiments so far have been limited to certain wavelengths such as microwaves and infrared light, and every method tried so far has limitations.

Compared with passive cloaking by metamaterials, the new method – which involves generating waves to protect or cloak an object from other waves – can cloak from a broader band of wavelengths, Milton says.

“The problem with metamaterials is that their behavior depends strongly on the frequency you are trying to cloak from,” he adds. “So it is difficult to obtain broadband cloaking. Maybe you’d be invisible to red light, but people would see you in blue light.”

Most previous research used interior cloaking, where the cloaking device envelops the cloaked object. Milton says the new method “is the first active, exterior cloaking” technique: cloaking devices emit signals and sit outside the cloaked object.

Videos Simulate How Cloaking Method Works

The new studies are numerical and theoretical, and show how the cloaking method can work. “The research simulates on a computer what you should see in an experiment,” Milton says. “We just do the math and hope other people do the experiments.”

The Physical Review Letters study demonstrates the new cloaking method at a single frequency of electromagnetic waves, while the Optics Express paper demonstrates how it can work broadband, or at a wide range of frequencies.

In Optics Express, the mathematicians demonstrate that three cloaking devices together create a “quiet zone” so that “objects placed within this region are virtually invisible” to incoming waves. Guevara Vasquez created short videos of mathematical simulations showing a pulse of electromagnetic or sound waves rolling past an object:

 

     

  • In one video, with the kite-shaped object uncloaked, the wave clearly interacts with the object, creating expanding, circular ripples like when a rock is thrown in a pond. 

     

  • In the second video, the object is surrounded by three point-like cloaking devices, each of which emits waves that only propagate a short distance. Those points and their emissions resemble purple sea urchins. As the passing waves roll by the cloaking devices, waves emitted by those devices interfere with the passing waves. As a result, the passing waves do not hit the cloaked object and there are no ripples.

 

Milton says the cloaking devices cause “destructive interference,” which occurs when two pebbles are thrown in a pond. In places where wave crests meet, the waves add up and the crests are taller. Where troughs meet, the troughs are deeper. But where crests cross troughs, the water is still because they cancel each other out.

The principle, applied to sound waves, is “sort of like noise cancelation devices you get with headphones in airplanes if you travel first class,” Milton says.

Protecting from Destructive Seismic and Tsunami Waves

“We proved mathematically that this method works when the wavelength of incoming electromagnetic radiation is large compared with the objects being cloaked, meaning it can cloak very small objects,” Milton says. “It also can cloak larger objects.”

Because visible light has tiny wavelengths, only microscopic objects could be made invisible by the new method.

“The cloaking device would have to generate fields that have very small wavelengths,” Milton says. “It is very difficult to build antennas the size of light waves. We’re so far from cloaking real-sized objects to visible light that it’s incredible.”

But imagine incoming waves as water waves, and envision breakwater cloaking devices that would generate waves to create a quiet zone that would protect oil rigs or specific coastal structures against incoming tsunami waves. Or imagine cloaking devices around buildings to generate vibrations to neutralize incoming seismic waves.

“Our method may have application to water waves, sound and microwaves [radar],” including shielding submarines and planes from sonar and radar, respectively, and protecting structures from seismic waves during earthquakes and water waves during tsunamis, Milton says. All those waves have wavelengths much larger than those of visible light, so the possible applications should be easier to develop.

“It would be wonderful if you could cloak buildings against earthquakes,” Milton says. “That’s on the borderline of what’s possible.”

The new method’s main disadvantage “is that it appears you must know in advance everything about the incoming wave,” including when the pulse begins, and the frequencies and amplitudes of the waves within the pulse, Milton says. That might require placement of numerous sensors to detect incoming seismic waves or tsunamis.

“Even though cloaking from light is probably impossible, it’s a fascinating subject, and there is beautiful mathematics behind it,” Milton says. “The whole area has exploded. So even if it’s not going to result in a ‘Harry Potter’ cloak, it will have spinoffs in other directions,” not only in protecting objects from waves of various sorts, but “for building new types of antennas, being able to see things on a molecular scale. It’s sort of a renaissance in classical science, with new ideas popping up all the time.”

 

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A video showing an object uncloaked and cloaked as a wave passes may be seen and downloaded from http://vimeo.com/6092319 or as separate videos from http://vimeo.com/5406253 (no cloaking) and http://vimeo.com/5406236 (with cloaking).

University of Utah Public Relations

August 6, 2009

Goin’ viral

Filed under: et.al., Media, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 10:49 pm

This is a very interesting PhysOrg article why some memes go viral and hit millions of eyeballs in mere hours.

From the link:

“There has been a lot of research done on social networks,” Esteban Moro tells PhysOrg.com. “However, until now it has been rare to get feedback from an actual performed experiment. Most research on social media is done with data that is inferred. But we have real experimental data for the basis of our model.” Moro is a scientist at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences at Carlos III University in Madrid, Spain. Along with José Luis Iribarren at an IBM division based in Madrid, Moro devised a viral marketing experiment that provides some quantitative conclusions about how something goes viral online. Their work appears in Physical Review Letters: “Impact of Human Activity Patterns on the Dynamics of Information Diffusion.”

“Most models of information diffusion through social media are based on the idea of homogeneity in human response,” Moro explains. According to Moro, most models are based around the average time that it takes for a person to respond to a request and then to pass it on. This model, while it might be useful in predicting some aspects of online marketing campaigns, does not adequately account for the reasons that some rumors, advertisements, content and even viruses suddenly explode worldwide in what is known as “going viral.”

Time dynamics of the biggest viral cascade, from Spain. Each "snapshot" represents the process at different times. The circles represent participates and the arrows describe the propagation of the message. Colors are meant to help you keep track of different stages of the message propagation. Image credit: Esteban Moro and José Luis Iribarren.

Time dynamics of the biggest viral cascade, from Spain. Each "snapshot" represents the process at different times. The circles represent participates and the arrows describe the propagation of the message. Colors are meant to help you keep track of different stages of the message propagation. Image credit: Esteban Moro and José Luis Iribarren.

June 2, 2009

Making water run uphill …

… through lasers and nanostructures. Lots of possible apps here, plus it’s just freaking cool.

The release:

Scientists create metal that pumps liquid uphill

Ultra-fast laser makes metal that attracts, repels and guides liquids

IMAGE: Chunlei Guo uses the femtosecond laser (behind him) to create nanostructures in metal that can move liquid uphill.

Click here for more information. 

In nature, trees pull vast amounts of water from their roots up to their leaves hundreds of feet above the ground through capillary action, but now scientists at the University of Rochester have created a simple slab of metal that lifts liquid using the same principle—but does so at a speed that would make nature envious.

The metal, revealed in an upcoming issue of Applied Physics Letters, may prove invaluable in pumping microscopic amounts of liquid around a medical diagnostic chip, cooling a computer’s processor, or turning almost any simple metal into an anti-bacterial surface.

“We’re able to change the surface structure of almost any piece of metal so that we can control how liquid responds to it,” says Chunlei Guo, associate professor of optics at the University of Rochester. “We can even control the direction in which the liquid flows, or whether liquid flows at all.”

Guo and his assistant, Anatoliy Vorobyev, use an ultra-fast burst of laser light to change the surface of a metal, forming nanoscale and microscale pits, globules, and strands across the metal’s surface. The laser, called a femtosecond laser, produces pulses lasting only a few quadrillionths of a second—a femtosecond is to a second what a second is to about 32 million years. During its brief burst, Guo’s laser unleashes as much power as the entire electric grid of North America does, all focused onto a spot the size of a needlepoint, he says.

The wicking process, which on Guo’s metal moves at a quick one centimeter per second speed against gravity, is very similar to the phenomenon that pulls spilled milk into a paper towel or creates “tears of wine” in a wineglass—molecular attractions and evaporation combine to move a liquid against gravity, says Guo. Likewise, Guo’s nanostructures change the way molecules of a liquid interact with the molecules of the metal, allowing them to become more or less attracted to each other, depending on Guo’s settings. At a certain size, the metal nanostructures adhere more readily to the liquid’s molecules than the liquid’s molecules adhere to each other, causing the liquid to quickly spread out across the metal. Combined with the effects of evaporation as the liquid spreads, this molecular interaction creates the fast wicking effect in Guo’s metals.

Adding laser-etched channels into the metal further enhances Guo’s control of the liquid.

“Imagine a huge waterway system shrunk down onto a tiny chip, like the electronic circuit printed on a microprocessor, so we can perform chemical or biological work with a tiny bit of liquid,” says Guo. “Blood could precisely travel along a certain path to a sensor for disease diagnostics. With such a tiny system, a nurse wouldn’t need to draw a whole tube of blood for a test. A scratch on the skin might contain more than enough cells for a micro-analysis.”

Guo’s team has also created metal that reduces the attraction between water molecules and metal molecules, a phenomenon called hydrophobia. Since germs mostly consist of water, it’s all but impossible for them to grow on a hydrophobic surface, says Guo.

Currently, to alter an area of metal the size of a quarter takes 30 minutes or more, but Guo and Vorobyev are working on refining the technique to make it faster. Fortunately, despite the incredible intensity involved, the femtosecond laser can be powered by a simple wall outlet, meaning that when the process is refined, implementing it should be relatively simple.

Guo is also announcing this month in Physical Review Letters a femtosecond laser processing technique that can create incandescent light bulbs that use half as much energy, yet produce the same amount of light. In 2006, Guo’s team used the femtosecond laser to create metal with nanostructures that reflected almost no light at all, and in 2008 the team was able to tune the creation of nanostructures to reflect certain wavelengths of light—in effect turning almost any metal into almost any color.

 

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This research funded by the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the National Science Foundation.

May 22, 2009

The latest in cloaking tech

I’ve done plenty of blogging on invisibility cloaking technology. Here’s a release from yesterday on the very latest news. It does seem we’re getting pretty close to an actual invisibility cloak. Science fiction becomes science fact once again.

The release:

New ‘broadband’ cloaking technology simple to manufacture

IMAGE: This image shows the design of a new type of invisibility cloak that is simpler than previous designs and works for all colors of the visible spectrum, making it possible…

Click here for more information. 

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Researchers have created a new type of invisibility cloak that is simpler than previous designs and works for all colors of the visible spectrum, making it possible to cloak larger objects than before and possibly leading to practical applications in “transformation optics.”

Whereas previous cloaking designs have used exotic “metamaterials,” which require complex nanofabrication, the new design is a far simpler device based on a “tapered optical waveguide,” said Vladimir Shalaev, Purdue University’s Robert and Anne Burnett Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Waveguides represent established technology – including fiber optics – used in communications and other commercial applications.

The research team used their specially tapered waveguide to cloak an area 100 times larger than the wavelengths of light shined by a laser into the device, an unprecedented achievement. Previous experiments with metamaterials have been limited to cloaking regions only a few times larger than the wavelengths of visible light.

Because the new method enabled the researchers to dramatically increase the cloaked area, the technology offers hope of cloaking larger objects, Shalaev said.

Findings are detailed in a research paper appearing May 29 in the journal Physical Review Letters. The paper was written by Igor I. Smolyaninov, a principal electronic engineer at BAE Systems in Washington, D.C.; Vera N. Smolyaninova, an assistant professor of physics at Towson University in Maryland; Alexander Kildishev, a principal research scientist at Purdue’s Birck Nanotechnology Center; and Shalaev.

“All previous attempts at optical cloaking have involved very complicated nanofabrication of metamaterials containing many elements, which makes it very difficult to cloak large objects,” Shalaev said. “Here, we showed that if a waveguide is tapered properly it acts like a sophisticated nanostructured material.”

The waveguide is inherently broadband, meaning it could be used to cloak the full range of the visible light spectrum. Unlike metamaterials, which contain many light-absorbing metal components, only a small portion of the new design contains metal.

Theoretical work for the design was led by Purdue, with BAE Systems leading work to fabricate the device, which is formed by two gold-coated surfaces, one a curved lens and the other a flat sheet. The researchers cloaked an object about 50 microns in diameter, or roughly the width of a human hair, in the center of the waveguide.

“Instead of being reflected as normally would happen, the light flows around the object and shows up on the other side, like water flowing around a stone,” Shalaev said.

The research falls within a new field called transformation optics, which may usher in a host of radical advances, including cloaking; powerful “hyperlenses” resulting in microscopes 10 times more powerful than today’s and able to see objects as small as DNA; computers and consumer electronics that use light instead of electronic signals to process information; advanced sensors; and more efficient solar collectors.

Unlike natural materials, metamaterials are able to reduce the “index of refraction” to less than one or less than zero. Refraction occurs as electromagnetic waves, including light, bend when passing from one material into another. It causes the bent-stick-in-water effect, which occurs when a stick placed in a glass of water appears bent when viewed from the outside. Each material has its own refraction index, which describes how much light will bend in that particular material and defines how much the speed of light slows down while passing through a material.

Natural materials typically have refractive indices greater than one. Metamaterials, however, can be designed to make the index of refraction vary from zero to one, which is needed for cloaking.

The precisely tapered shape of the new waveguide alters the refractive index in the same way as metamaterials, gradually increasing the index from zero to 1 along the curved surface of the lens, Shalaev said.

Previous cloaking devices have been able to cloak only a single frequency of light, meaning many nested devices would be needed to render an object invisible.

Kildishev reasoned that the same nesting effect might be mimicked with the waveguide design. Subsequent experiments and theoretical modeling proved the concept correct.

Researchers do not know of any fundamental limit to the size of objects that could be cloaked, but additional work will be needed to further develop the technique.

Recent cloaking findings reported by researchers at other institutions have concentrated on a technique that camouflages features against a background. This work, which uses metamaterials, is akin to rendering bumps on a carpet invisible by allowing them to blend in with the carpet, whereas the Purdue-based work concentrates on enabling light to flow around an object.

 

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Related Web site:

Vladimir Shalaev:
https://engineering.purdue.edu/ECE/People/profile?resource_id=3322

IMAGE CAPTION:

This image shows the design of a new type of invisibility cloak that is simpler than previous designs and works for all colors of the visible spectrum, making it possible to cloak larger objects than before and possibly leading to practical applications in “transformation optics.” (Purdue University)

A publication-quality image is available at http://news.uns.purdue.edu/images/+2009/shalaev-cloaking.jpg

Abstract on the research in this release is available at: http://news.uns.purdue.edu/x/2009a/090520ShalaevCloaking.html

April 9, 2009

Quantum computing news

The final release dump post. As always I prefer providing you the entire release rather than rework it into something different. Any commentary or strong feelings on the release makes it into the intro, but usually it’s just news that I find interesting, cool or maybe just funny. Quantum computing news is always interesting and very, very cool.

The release:

Quantum computers will require complex software to manage errors

IMAGE: While rudimentary is a fair description of this early computer, the National Bureau of Standards — SEAC, built in 1950 –prototype quantum computers have not even reached its level of…

Click here for more information. 

Highlighting another challenge to the development of quantum computers, theorists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have shown* that a type of software operation, proposed as a solution to fundamental problems with the computers’ hardware, will not function as some designers had hoped.

Quantum computers—if they can ever be realized—will employ effects associated with atomic physics to solve otherwise intractable problems. But the NIST team has proved that the software in question, widely studied due to its simplicity and robustness to noise, is insufficient for performing arbitrary computations. This means that any software the computers use will have to employ far more complex and resource-intensive solutions to ensure the devices function effectively.

Unlike a conventional computer’s binary on-off switches, the building blocks of quantum computers, known as quantum bits, or “qubits,” have the mind-bending ability to exist in both “on” and “off” states simultaneously due to the so-called “superposition” principle of quantum physics. Once harnessed, the superposition principle should allow quantum computers to extract patterns from the possible outputs of a huge number of computations without actually performing all of them. This ability to extract overall patterns makes the devices potentially valuable for tasks such as codebreaking.

One issue, though, is that prototype quantum processors are prone to errors caused, for example, by noise from stray electric or magnetic fields. Conventional computers can guard against errors using techniques such as repetition, where the information in each bit is copied several times and the copies are checked against one another as the calculation proceeds. But this sort of redundancy is impossible in a quantum computer, where the laws of the quantum world forbid such information cloning.

To improve the efficiency of error correction, researchers are designing quantum computing architectures so as to limit the spread of errors. One of the simplest and most effective ways of ensuring this is by creating software that never permits qubits to interact if their errors might compound one another. Quantum software operations with this property are called “transversal encoded quantum gates.” NIST information theorist Bryan Eastin describes these gates as a solution both simple to employ and resistant to the noise of error-prone quantum processors. But the NIST team has proved mathematically that transversal gates cannot be used exclusively, meaning that more complex solutions for error management and correction must be employed.

Eastin says their result does not represent a setback to quantum computer development because researchers, unable to figure out how to employ transversal gates universally, have already developed other techniques for dealing with errors. “The findings could actually help move designers on to greener pastures,” he says. “There are some avenues of exploration that are less tempting now.”

 

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* B. Eastin and E. Knill. Restrictions on transversal quantum gate sets. Physical Review Letters, 102, 110502, March 20, 2009.

December 19, 2008

Breaking news — Earth is not the center of the universe

Duh.

The release:

Earth not center of the universe, surrounded by ‘dark energy’: UBC cosmologists

Earth’s location in the Universe is utterly unremarkable, despite recent theories that propose toppling a foundation of modern cosmology, according to a team of University of British Columbia researchers.

Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus’s 1543 book, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, moved Earth from being the centre of the Universe to just another planet orbiting the Sun. Since then, astronomers have extended the idea and formed the Copernican Principle, which says that our place in the Universe as a whole is completely ordinary. Although the Copernican Principle has become a pillar of modern cosmology, finding conclusive evidence that our neighbourhood of the Universe really isn’t special has proven difficult.

In 1998, studies of distant explosions called “type Ia supernovae” indicated that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating, an observation attributed to the repulsive force of a mysterious “dark energy.” However, some scientists put forward an alternate theory: They proposed that the Earth was near the centre of a giant “bubble,” or “void,” mostly empty of matter, and strongly violating the Copernican Principle. If this were the case, gravity would create the illusion of acceleration, mimicking the effect of dark energy on the supernova observations.

Now some advanced analysis and modeling performed by UBC post-doctoral fellows Jim Zibin and Adam Moss and Astronomy Prof. Douglas Scott is showing that this alternate “void theory” just doesn’t add up. Their findings are published today in the journal Physical Review Letters.

The researchers used data from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe satellite, which includes members from UBC on its international team, as well as data from various ground-based instruments and surveys.

“We tested void models against the latest data, including subtle features in the cosmic microwave background radiation – the afterglow of the Big Bang – and ripples in the large-scale distribution of matter,” says Zibin. “We found that void models do a very poor job of explaining the combination of these data.”

The team’s calculations instead solidify the conventional view that an enigmatic dark energy fills the cosmos and is responsible for the acceleration of the Universe. “Recent advances in data collection have brought us to the era of precision cosmology,” says Zibin. “Void models are terrible at explaining the new data, but the standard dark energy model works very well.

“Since we can only observe the Universe from Earth, it’s really hard to determine if we’re in a ‘special place,'” says Zibin. “But we’ve now learned that our location is much more ordinary than the strange dark energy that fills the Universe.”

 

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The journal paper is available online at http://link.aps.org/abstract/PRL/v101/e251303

November 14, 2008

Atomic quantum computing

One more bullet for the quantum computing arsenal.

From the PhysOrg link:

“There are a number of different proposals for quantum computing,” Andrew Daley tells PhysOrg.com. “These include solid state or semiconductor as well as atomic and molecular systems. We are considering atomic systems, and more specifically alkaline earth metals.”

Daley is a physicist in the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of Innsbruck and the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Austria. He, along with Martin Boyd and Jun Ye at the University of Colorado, and Peter Zoller at Innsbruck, are proposing a quantum computing scheme that would make use of overlaying optical lattices to store information as well as perform computations. Much of this work was performed when the authors were guests at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, and their ideas are shared in Physical Review Letters: “Quantum Computing with Alkaline-Earth-Metal Atoms.”

Electrons play a vital role in quantum computing with atoms, and when atoms are controlled with light, the electrons are also controlled. “That’s what makes alkali atoms nice to deal with,” says Daley. “They only have one valence electron, which makes the system really simple.” He then points out that alkaline earth metals offer an advantage over alkali atoms: “There are two electrons weakly bound. Even though the system is a little more complicated, there are some very nice properties.”

September 21, 2008

American Physical Society announces new online pub

Filed under: Media, Science — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:21 pm

The e-zine is called Physics, it’s free and will find the gems and provide commentary on papers from Physical Review Letters and Physical Review .

From the link:

The authoritative but brief reports in Physics on exciting and important new research will help keep researchers abreast of developments within and outside of their own fields and can catalyze interdisciplinary work. With the combined output of the APS peer-reviewed publications at about 18,000 papers a year, there is clearly a need to pull the truly exceptional papers out from among the merely excellent works, and place them in context.

“Our readers don’t want to miss significant developments in other subfields of physics,” says Gene Sprouse, APS Editor in Chief, “and our authors need and deserve more attention for their best papers.” Physics aims to meet those needs by means of three features, all with original content. “Viewpoints” discuss and explain a particular paper’s findings in a manner accessible to all physicists, especially to those outside its subspecialty. “Trends” are longer pieces that cover a recent body of work in a specific field, but also look ahead to the challenges and questions that fascinate that field’s top researchers. “Synopses” are staff-written summaries of papers that merit wider attention among physicists in all fields.

“The selection process will be rigorous but not rigid,” says David Voss, Physics’ Editor. “We’ll highlight papers that change the rules of the game, afford cross-disciplinary potential, or report a substantial breakthrough in a particular field.” Feedback and suggestions by email to physics_at_aps.org are welcome.

August 2, 2008

Looking inside aerogels

Aerogels are pretty amazing substances with many uses. This press release covers using X-ray diffraction to get a 3D nanoscale look inside aerogels.

The full release and two of the provided images:

X-Ray Diffraction Looks Inside Aerogels in 3-D

A multi-institutional team of scientists has used beamline 9.0.1 at the Advanced Light Source to perform high-resolution x‑ray diffraction imaging of an aerogel for the first time, revealing its nanoscale three-dimensional bulk lattice structure down to features measured in nanometers, billionths of a meter.

Aerogels, sometimes called “frozen smoke” or “San Francisco fog,” are nanoscale foams: solid materials whose sponge-like structure is riddled by pores as small as nanometers across and whose strength is surprising, given their low density. Many porous materials are extraordinary for their properties as insulators, filters, and catalysts; they are used to produce clean fuels, to insulate windows and even clothing, to study the percolation of oil through rock, as drug-delivery systems, and even to cushion the capture of high-velocity comet fragments in outer space.

“The smallest pore size is the key to the strength of porous materials and what they can do,” says Stefano Marchesini, an ALS scientist at Berkeley Lab, who led the research. “Seeing inside bulk porous materials has never been done before at this resolution, making this one of the first applications of x-ray diffractive microscopy to a real problem.” 

Team members from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the University of California at Davis, Arizona State University, Argonne National Laboratory, and Berkeley Lab performed the x‑ray diffraction imaging and have published their results online in Physical Review Letters, available to subscribers at http://link.aps.org/abstract/PRL/v101/e055501.

Seeing inside foam

One way to study aerogels and other nanofoams is with electron microscopy, which can image only thin, two-dimensional slices through the porous structure of the material. Another method is straightforward x-ray microscopy, using zone plates as “lenses”; microscopy can penetrate a sample but has difficulty maintaining resolution at different depths in the material. Small-angle x‑ray scattering (SAXS) can also gather limited structural information from finely powdered aerogels, but SAXS cannot provide full three-dimensional information. None of these techniques can capture the 3-D internal structure of nanofoam samples measured in micrometers, a few millionths of a meter across.

X-ray diffraction approaches the problem differently. A laser-like x-ray beam passes all the way through the sample and is diffracted onto a CCD detector screen; diffraction patterns are repeatedly stored while the sample is moved and rotated. A typical series requires approximately 150 views in all.

The individual diffraction patterns are then processed by a computer. The way the photons in the beam are redirected from each component of the structure is different for each orientation, and comparing their intensities serves to position that component precisely in three-dimensional space. Thousands of iterations are required – in the present study, team member Anton Barty of Livermore led the solution of almost 100 million measured intensities, as opposed to the 100 thousand or so typical of, say, protein crystallography – but the end result is a 3‑D image of the tiny sample at nanometer-scale resolution.

Foam-like structures are described in terms of interconnecting lattice beams and the nodes where they intersect. These elements became vividly apparent in the reconstructed 3-D images of the aerogel used in the imaging at the ALS, which was made of tantalum ethoxide (Ta2O5), a ceramic material proposed for cladding capsules of hydrogen isotopes for inertial-confinement fusion experiments being pursued at Livermore.

“The strength and stiffness of foam-like structures are expected to scale with their density, relating the density of individual elements like beams and nodes to the overall density,” Marchesini says. “But below about 10 percent density, the strength of aerogels like the ones we tested – on the order of 1 percent density – is orders of magnitude less than expected.”

Of the theories that seek to explain this phenomenon, one is the “percolation” model, in which fragments become detached from the load-bearing structure and add mass without contributing to strength. The alternate “heterogeneities” model proposes that the structure is increasingly riddled with defects like micron-sized holes and buckles more easily.

A third theory is the “diffusion-limited cluster aggregation” model: blobs of material accumulate that are connected by thin links, instead of sturdy beams between nodes.

“The high resolution we achieved allowed us to see which of these models more accurately described the actual observed structure,” Marchesini says. By seeing the foam from the inside, the team was able to see exactly how it was structured, and the shape and dimensions of each component. “The structure was far more complex than anything we’d seen in earlier images obtained using this technique.”

What the team observed in their 3-D images of the tantalum ethoxide aerogel was a “blob-and-beam” structure consistent with the third model, that of diffusion-limited cluster aggregation. The observed structure explained the relative weakness of the low-density material and also suggested that changes in methods of preparing aerogels might improve their strength.

Into the future

“We’d like to use x-ray diffraction to study a range of porous materials and nanostructures in general, for example porous polymers developed at the Molecular Foundry for storing hydrogen as fuel – and at even higher resolutions,” Marchesini says. “To do so, David Shapiro, who built the end station we used for this work, is working with us to overcome some obstacles.”

One is time. At present, each sample takes months of work. After preparation, the experiment first requires one or two days of mounting, rotating, and exposing the sample to the x-ray beam, about a minute per view – because of a slow detector – for 150 views. There follow weeks of computation time. “And after all this, you can find out the sample was no good, so you have to start over,” Marchesini says.

Improved sample handling, faster detectors, and a beamline dedicated to x-ray diffraction are principal goals. The Coherent Scattering and Diffraction Microscopy (COSMIC) facility, a top priority in the ALS strategic plan, will provide intense coherent x-rays with full polarization control.

“We are also collaborating with Berkeley Lab’s Computational Research Division to develop efficient and robust algorithms to speed up the time needed to construct the 3-D image from the individual rotated views,” Marchesini says. “This will open an entire spectrum of possibilities for new ways of seeing the very small – not just aerogels but virtually any unknown object, from nanostructures to biological cells.”

This work was principally supported by the Department of Energy through a variety of grants, by Laboratory Directed Research and Development programs at Livermore, and additionally by the National Science Foundation.

Additional information

  • “Three-dimensional coherent X-ray diffraction imaging of a ceramic nanofoam: determination of structural deformation mechanisms,” by A. Barty, S. Marchesini, H. N. Chapman, C. Cui, M. R. Howells, D. A. Shapiro, A. M. Minor, J. C. H. Spence, U. Weierstall, J. Havsky, A. Noy, S. P. Hau-Riege, A. B. Artyukhin, T. Baumann, T. Willey, J. Stolken, T. van Buuren, and J. H. Kinney, appears in Physical Review Letters online publication and is available to subscribers at http://link.aps.org/abstract/PRL/v101/e055501.
  • More about beamline 9.0.1 at the Advanced Light Source
Silicon aerogel acting as an insulator

Silicon aerogel acting as an insulator

 

A 500-nanometer cube of aerogel from the interior of the 3-D volume, reconstructed by x-ray diffraction. The foam structure shows globular nodes that are interconnected by thin beam- like struts. Approximately 85 percent of the total mass is associated with the nodes; relatively little of the mass is in the load-bearing links.
A 500-nanometer cube of aerogel from the interior of the 3-D volume, reconstructed by x-ray diffraction. The foam structure shows globular nodes that are interconnected by thin beam- like struts. Approximately 85 percent of the total mass is associated with the nodes; relatively little of the mass is in the load-bearing links.