Image of light-induced acceleration of supercurrents
Jigang Wang and his collaborators have demonstrated light-induced acceleration of supercurrents, which could enable practical applications of quantum mechanics such as computing, sensing and communicating. (Image: Jigang Wang)

Jigang Wang patiently explained his latest discovery in quantum control that could lead to superfast computing based on quantum mechanics. He mentioned light-induced superconductivity without energy gap. He brought up forbidden supercurrent quantum beats. And he mentioned terahertz-speed symmetry breaking. Then he backed up and clarified all that. After all, the quantum world of matter and energy at terahertz and nanometer scales – trillions of cycles per second and billionths of meters – is still a mystery to most people.

“I like to study quantum control of superconductivity exceeding the gigahertz, or billions of cycles per second, bottleneck in current state-of-the-art quantum computation applications,” said Wang, a professor of physics and astronomy at Iowa State University whose research has been supported by the Army Research Office. “We’re using terahertz light as a control knob to accelerate supercurrents.”

Superconductivity is the movement of electricity through certain materials without resistance. It typically occurs at very, very cold temperatures such as -400 Fahrenheit for “high-temperature” superconductors.

Terahertz light is light at very, very high frequencies. Think trillions of cycles per second. It’s essentially extremely strong and powerful microwave bursts firing at very short time frames. Wang and a team of researchers demonstrated such light can be used to control some of the essential quantum properties of superconducting states, including macroscopic supercurrent flowing, broken symmetry and accessing certain very high frequency quantum oscillations thought to be forbidden by symmetry. It all sounds esoteric and strange. But it could have very practical applications.

“Light-induced supercurrents chart a path forward for electromagnetic design of emergent materials properties and collective coherent oscillations for quantum engineering applications,” Wang and several co-authors wrote in a recently published research paper.

In other words, the discovery could help physicists “create crazy-fast quantum computers by nudging supercurrents,” Wang wrote in a summary of the research team’s findings.

Finding ways to control, access and manipulate the special characteristics of the quantum world and connect them to real-world problems is a major scientific push these days. The National Science Foundation has included the “Quantum Leap” in its “10 big ideas” for future research and development.

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