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This is an Inside Science story.
“I'm picking up good vibrations. She's giving me excitations.” Little did The Beach Boys know their 1966 hit was the perfect description for a physics experiment half a century later. Researchers have come up with a new way to detect phonons -- a quantum unit for measuring vibrations. These new methods may be useful in a wide range of applications, from measuring the tiny vibrations of gravitational waves from billions of light-years away, to using the vibrations themselves to store information for quantum computers.
Radio - Waves - Air - Vibrations - Eardrums
Whenever you turn on your radio, sound waves travel through the air before delivering the sweet vibrations to your eardrums. When physicists study vibrations, from the kinds that are audible to our ears to the kinds that transfer heat through materials, they sometimes characterize these waves as particles called phonons, similar to how light waves can be characterized as particles called photons. However, the number of phonons produced by everyday activities, from a jet plane taking off to a pin dropping, is practically uncountable.
Yet counting phonons is useful when there are only a small number of them, such as when distant collisions of black holes send out tiny ripples in space-time that may cause vibrations on Earth. Scientists have now made a new machine that can count small numbers of phonons, which could help researchers build super sensitive scientific instruments and even quantum information storage devices.
Paper - Fall - Physical - Review - Letters
In a paper published this fall in the journal Physical Review Letters, researchers describe a superconducting circuit they created that is able to count small numbers of phonons. The circuit, which contains superconducting electron pairs that can move around without any resistance, can essentially work like a decibel meter used to measure crowd noises inside stadiums, but for measuring extremely small vibrations instead.
Here is where the Beach...
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