Scientists have learned how to ‘talk’ to atoms

Researchers have communicated with an atom using sound for the first time. Sadly, this wasn’t because atoms make such scintillating conversation. It was in the hope of building electrical circuits that obey the laws of quantum physics. In the short term, scientists want to study and learn to control these. In the long term, they want to exploit them to make our lives easier. (Super-fast computer, anyone?)

Experimental and theoretical physicists from Chalmers University of Technology worked together, using an artificial atom 0.01 millimetres long and made of a superconducting material. When charged up, all atoms emit energy as a particle. But instead of that particle being light as with normal atoms, the artificial atom gives off and receives energy as sound. (So it’s handy when you’re stuck for someone to talk to…)

Because sound moves 100,000 times more slowly than light, and has a high frequency (4.8 gigahertz) this should allow scientists to control the quantum particle more easily. For example, the Chalmers team were able to direct the sound across a microchip’s surface. Per Delsing, who is head of the experimental physics research group, said, ‘We have opened a new door into the quantum world by talking and listening to atoms.’ They’ve also given those of us who are prone to mumbling to ourselves in public the perfect excuse.

Image credit: Philip Krantz, Krantz NanoArt.

Want to read more? Here’s our coverage of the recent Apple announcements, including everything you need to know about Apple’s ‘phablet’, the iPhone 6 Plus, and smartwatches buying guide, or if you’re sick of Apple completely, here’s our rundown of our 14 favourite dating apps, from Tinder to eHarmony.

Diane Shipley

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