Physicists Create Their Own Version of a Flux Capacitor

This device won't make time travel possible but researchers hope it could provide a valuable step toward viable quantum computing systems.
Shelby Rogers
Back to the Future DeLorean Time MachineOto Godfrey and Justin Morton/Wikimedia Creative Commons

It seems like Doc Brown is no longer the only person skilled to create a flux capacitor. An international team of researchers have proposed their own version of the famous device, using quantum tunneling of magnetic flux to adjust time.

The researchers from Australia and Switzerland published the details of their device in a recent edition of Physical Review Letters. The device controls and adjusts the direction that microwave signals move throughout an area. The international team resulted from the Australian Research Council Centres of Excellence: the Centre for Engineered Quantum Systems (EQUS) collaborating with Switzerland's Centre for Future Low-Energy Electronics Technologies (FLEET).

FLEET's associate investigator Professor Jared Cole (who works at RMIT University) explained in a statement that the proposed device has the background of a superconductor -- a material where electricity can flow without electrical resistance.

Professor Cole added, "We propose two different possible circuits, one of which resembles the iconic three-pointed-star design of the cinematic flux capacitor."

"In it, quantum 'tubes' of magnetic flux can move around a central capacitor by a process known as quantum tunneling, where they overcome classically insurmountable obstacles."

The effect is called time-reversal symmetry -- which sounds enormously promising given that the theoretical device looks eerily similar in structure to the Back to the Future franchise's signature flux capacitor.

Or (for those who might not be sci-fi film fans) one could liken it to cars traveling in a roundabout, explained Professor Tom Stace, from the University of Queensland:

"Instead, it means that signals circulate around the circuit in only one direction, much like cars on a roundabout."

Physicists Create Their Own Version of a Flux Capacitor
Source: FLEET via Pinavia

The researchers explained the device further in a press statement:

"Such a device can be used to isolate parts of an experimental apparatus from one other, which is critical when the individual parts are extremely sensitive quantum systems."

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While the applications for such a complex device might initially seem complicated, the team said there are several ways this device could be of critical importance. Clements Mueller with ETH Zurich said this device could hold enormous promise for next-generation technologies. It could even be a major part of finally developing a quantum computing system.

"Our research makes an important step towards scaling up this technology, where researchers need to precisely direct control and measurement signals around a quantum computer," said Mueller.

But the real question still remains: does the device allow users to go back -- to the future?

"Unfortunately this effect does not allow us to actually travel back in time," Stace explained. 

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