Quantum Atomic Machines

in StemSocial5 months ago

Quantum engineers built an “engine” and a “fridge” based on a single atom of barium. Thermodynamic machines that utilize energy transfer connected to vibrations of the atom.


Image by Tomislav Jakupec from Pixabay

When will the miniaturization of technology end? New research performed by scientists from Singapur shows that we are getting to the atomic level. They managed to build an engine and also a cooling device from a single atom. Similar devices could one day become part of quantum computers or even advanced fuel cells.

Thermodynamics In Atoms

Current computers and other electronic devices have many components that produce heat. We usually use a heat spreader and a fan to cool them. Future nano-machines and quantum computers could certainly use much smaller cooling devices.

Both engines and cooling devices obey the laws of thermodynamics. An engine takes energy and transforms it into useful work while a cooling device reduces the temperature in a closed area. To a certain degree, you can think of them as opposites.

This time, the researchers tried to create thermodynamic devices made from just a few atoms. At this time, this part of physics and engineering is quite unknown so we need to constantly do experiments to figure out what is possible and what isn't.

The team of scientists worked with a single atom of barium and looked into its thermodynamic properties. They came up with a scheme in which lasers transfer electrons in the barium atom between two valence shells. Similarly to how an engine of a car uses the energy of the fuel to move the pistons and to charge the car's battery the barium atom uses the energy provided by the laser to increase its vibrations. The atoms vibrations are essentially the battery here as the atoms stores its energy in its vibrations for future use.

Both in the engine and fridge mode quantum effects affected the atomic machine. Because of the quantum effects, the atom gets sort of blurred and thus the atomic machine is less effective. Yet, the machines work.

The researchers tried out both the atomic engine and fridge in experiments and they verified that when the barium atom is in the engine mode its vibratory energy increases and in the fridge mode it does actually decrease. Now we just have to wait for some interesting uses for these atomic machines.


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