Feb 2, 2017

Quantum phase transition observed for the first time

Posted by in category: quantum physics

A group of scientists led by Johannes Fink from the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria) reported the first experimental observation of a first-order phase transition in a dissipative quantum system. Phase transitions include such phenomena as the freezing of water at the critical temperature of 0 degrees Celsius. However, phase transitions also occur at the quantum mechanical level, where they are still relatively unexplored by researchers.

One example of a phase transition at the quantum level is the photon-blockade breakdown, which was only discovered two years ago. During photon blockade, a photon fills a cavity in an optical system and prevents other photons from entering the same cavity until it leaves, hence blocking the flow of photons. But if the photon flux increases to a critical level, a quantum phase transition is predicted: The photon blockade breaks down, and the state of the system changes from opaque to transparent. This specific phase transition has now been experimentally observed by researchers who, for the first time, met the very specific conditions necessary to study this effect.

During a phase transition, the continuous tuning of an external parameter, for example temperature, leads to a transition between two robust steady states with different attributes. First-order are characterized by a coexistence of the two stable phases when the control parameter is within a certain range close to the critical value. The two phases form a mixed phase in which some parts have completed the transition and others have not, as in a glass containing ice water. The experimental results that Fink and his collaborators will publish in the journal Physical Review X give insight into the quantum mechanical basis of this effect in a microscopic, zero-dimensional system.

Read more

Comments are closed.