Scientists create quantum "domain walls" in the lab in a world first

And it could lead to a "more robust way to store quantum information".
Chris Young
The "domain wall" is represented by the white line.Kai-Xuan Yao/University of Chicago

Scientists from the University of Chicago were able to create a strange new kind of quantum object called "domain walls" at will for the first time, allowing them to analyze the phenomena in detail, a press statement reveals.

The new discovery can help the scientific community better understand exotic quantum particles, potentially leading to the development of new future quantum technologies.

Analyzing quantum "domain walls"

In a new paper published in the journal Nature, the researchers outlined their discovery of a strange occurrence observed in atoms at extremely low temperatures. They found out that, under the right conditions, groups of atoms segregate into domains, forming a "wall" between each of these domains.

Though scientists had previously seen these domain walls in other experiments, this is the first time they were reliably generated, allowing for close observation. Based on their observations, the researchers said each of these walls behaves like its own quantum object, independent of the individual atoms they separate. 

Ph.D. student Kai-Xuan Yao, the first author of the study, compared the phenomena to sand dunes, saying "it's [like it's] made up of sand, but the dune acts like an object that behaves differently from individual grains of sand." Professor Cheng Chin, the study lead, described the surprising observations made regarding these strange quantum objects: "We have a lot of experience in controlling atoms," he said. "We know if you push atoms to the right, they will move right. But here, if you push the domain wall to the right, it moves left."

Studying the surprising behavior of "emergent phenomena"

The domain walls are part of a class named "emergent phenomena", as they appear to follow a new law of physics governed by the fact that they are composed of many particles acting together. Chin's team of scientists hopes that their research can help open avenues for new quantum technologies, by adding to this field. "There may be applications for this phenomenon in terms of making programmable quantum material or quantum information processor — it can be used to create a more robust way to store quantum information or enable new functions in materials," Chin explained. "But before we can find that out, the first step is to understand how to control them." 

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As is the case with most breakthroughs in quantum mechanics, the fruits of this new observation could be wide-ranging, but they likely won't be seen for many years. As a point of reference, the researchers point out that the basis of modern GPS technologies came from scientists in the 1950s who were testing Einstein's theory of relativity. Quantum computing is a highly-anticipated technological jump that could vastly change the way we interact with the digital world, providing potentially revolutionary computing power to a large number of fields that already rely on data as currency.