PASADENA, Calif. — Researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have demonstrated quantum entanglement for a quantum state stored in four spatially distinct atomic memories.
Their work, described in the November 18 issue of the journal Nature, also demonstrated a quantum interface between the atomic memories—which represent something akin to a computer "hard drive" for entanglement—and four beams of light, thereby enabling the four-fold entanglement to be distributed by photons across quantum networks. The research represents an important achievement in quantum information science by extending the coherent control of entanglement from two to multiple (four) spatially separated physical systems of matter and light.
The proof-of-principle experiment, led by William L. Valentine Professor and professor of physics H. Jeff Kimble, helps to pave the way toward quantum networks. Similar to the Internet in our daily life, a quantum network is a quantum "web" composed of many interconnected quantum nodes, each of which is capable of rudimentary quantum logic operations (similar to the "AND" and "OR" gates in computers) utilizing "quantum transistors" and of storing the resulting quantum states in quantum memories. The quantum nodes are "wired" together by quantum channels that carry, for example, beams of photons to deliver quantum information from node to node. Such an interconnected quantum system could function as a quantum computer, or, as proposed by the late Caltech physicist Richard Feynman in the 1980s, as a "quantum simulator" for studying complex problems in physics.
Quantum entanglement is a quintessential feature of the quantum realm and involves correlations among components of the overall physical system that cannot be described by classical physics. Strangely, for an entangled quantum system, there exists no objective physical reality for the system’s properties. Instead, an entangled system contains simultaneously multiple possibilities for its properties. Such an entangled system has been created and stored by the Caltech researchers.
Previously, Kimble’s group entangled a pair of atomic quantum memories and coherently transferred the entangled photons into and out of the quantum memories (http://media.caltech.edu/press_releases/13115). For such two-component—or bipartite—entanglement, the subsystems are either entangled or not. But for multi-component entanglement with more than two subsystems—or multipartite entanglement—there are many possible ways to entangle the subsystems. For example, with four subsystems, all of the possible pair combinations could be bipartite entangled but not be entangled over all four components; alternatively, they could share a "global" quadripartite (four-part) entanglement.
Hence, multipartite entanglement is accompanied by increased complexity in the system. While this makes the creation and characterization of these quantum states substantially more difficult, it also makes the entangled states more valuable for tasks in quantum information science.
To achieve multipartite entanglement, the Caltech team used lasers to cool four collections (or ensembles) of about one million Cesium atoms, separated by 1 millimeter and trapped in a magnetic field, to within a few hundred millionths of a degree above absolute zero. Each ensemble can have atoms with internal spins that are "up" or "down" (analogous to spinning tops) and that are collectively described by a "spin wave" for the respective ensemble. It is these spin waves that the Caltech researchers succeeded in entangling among the four atomic ensembles.