Quantum Machine Appears to Defy Universe’s Push for Disorder

March 21, 2019

View of the Lukin Lab apparatus.

Place an ice cube in hot water and the water molecules frozen in the ordered, crystalline lattice will break their bonds and disperse. In mixing and spreading, a system strives toward equilibrium with its environment, a process called thermalization.

It’s common and intuitive, and precisely what a team of physicists expected to see when they lined up 51 rubidium atoms in a row, holding them in place with lasers. The atoms started in an orderly pattern, alternating between the lowest-energy “ground” state and an excited energy state. The researchers assumed the system would quickly thermalize: The pattern of ground and excited states would settle almost immediately into a jumbled sequence.

And at first, the pattern did jumble. But then, shockingly, it reverted to the original alternating sequence. After some more mixing, it returned yet again to that initial configuration. Back and forth it went, oscillating a few times in under a microsecond — long after it should have thermalized.

It was as if you dropped an ice cube in hot water and it didn’t just melt away, said Mikhail Lukin, a physicist at Harvard University and a leader of the group. “What you see is the ice melts and crystallizes, melts and crystallizes,” he said. “It’s something really unusual.”

(continue reading "Quantum Machine Appears to Defy Universe’s Push for Disorder" by Marcus Woo, Quanta Magazine, March 20, 2019. https://www.quantamagazine.org/quantum-scarring-appears-to-defy-universes-push-for-disorder-20190320/.