Physicists use electrons to create 'synthetic dimensions'

By: April Carson

Although our spatial awareness does not extend beyond the familiar three dimensions, scientists are still playing with anything that is outside of their known reality. In a study that was recently published in the journal Physical Review Letters, physicists were able to create 'synthetic dimensions' by using specially designed electrons.

Rice University physicists are breaking spatial barriers in new research. They've developed the ability to control electrons at such a high level that they may construct "synthetic dimensions," which are crucial for quantum simulations.

"We can create a synthetic dimension with these electrons by changing the number of dimensions in which they live," said Rice physicist Junichiro Kono. "This opens up the possibility of doing quantum simulations in a completely new way."

The Rice scientists developed a method to combine several states together in the Rydberg states of ultracold strontium atoms using resonant microwave electric fields. When one electron in the atom is energetically jostled up to a highly excited condition, its orbit grows tenfold, making the atom thousands of times larger than usual.

Extremely low temperatures are required to keep ultracold Rydberg atoms moving. They are about a millionth of a degree above absolute zero. Rice Quantum Initiative researchers used lattice-like Rydberg levels to simulate aspects of real materials by precisely and adaptively controlling the electron motion. The methods might also be used to create quantum systems that can't be realized in actual three-dimensional space, providing a powerful new platform for quantum research.

Researchers from Rice University's Center for Theoretical Biological Physics and Quantum Information Science have published a study on Rydberg atoms in Nature Communications, which was led by graduate student Soumya Kanungo and co-authored by Tom Killian, Barry Dunning, and Kaden Hazzard. In 2018, Killian and Dunning conducted the first study into Rydberg atoms at Rice University's Center for Theoretical Biological Physics & Quantum Information Science.

The Rydberg atom contains numerous closely spaced quantum energy levels, which can be linked by microwaves to allow the extremely energized electron to hop from level to level. The movement of a particle between lattice sites in a genuine crystal is computationally equivalent to the dynamics in this "synthetic dimension."

"In a typical high school physics experiment, one may observe light emission lines from atoms that represent changes in energy levels," Hazzard continued. "We are now able to create new energy levels, and by doing so, create new aspects of reality."

The researchers say that their findings could pave the way for the development of novel quantum technologies, such as atomic clocks or quantum memories.

"The thing that's new about this is that we conceive of each level as a location in space," he added. "We can connect levels by utilizing various wavelengths of light.

We may simulate the levels appearing to move from one place to the next in space.

"We're working with millimeter wavelengths, which makes it technically considerably simpler to produce couplings," Hazzard added.

Dr. Killian added, "We can create the interactions, the way particles move and capture all of the important physics of a far more complicated system."

"We'll be able to do physics that we can't simulate on a regular computer because it becomes complex very quickly when we combine many Rydberg atoms together in this artificial space," he added. "With this, we'll be able to do physics that we can't achieve with a traditional computer since the mathematics get complicated fast."

The researchers employed their method to create a 1D lattice known as a Su-Schrieffer-Heeger system. To fabricate it, they utilized lasers to cool strontium atoms and applied alternating weak and strong couplings of microwaves to build the correct artificial environment. A second set of lasers was used to put the atomic manifold into an excited state.

The study found that tiny particles move on the one-dimensional lattice, and some are frozen at the boundaries even though they have enough energy to travel, according to Killian. This is linked to topological properties that may be described in terms of material properties.

"When using millimeter waves to couple Rydberg atomic states, it's much simpler to have control over couplings," Kanungo said. "We can try to figure out what dynamics would occur when a Rydberg electron is excited into that synthetic space once we've built the 1D lattice with all the couplings in place."

The physicists say their findings could be used to build new devices and materials with novel topological features.

"What we found is that you can essentially create a synthetic dimensionality, something that doesn't exist in nature, just by coupling these Rydberg atomic states to a one-dimensional lattice," Killian said.

"This is a very new area that we're exploring," Kanungo said. "It's fascinating to think about what we can do with this kind of synthetic space."

"It's a bit like running a wind tunnel to isolate the little yet important effects that you care about among the more complicated aerodynamics of a car or plane," Killian stated. "This becomes critical when the system is governed by quantum mechanics, where as soon as you have more than a few particles and some degrees of freedom, it's difficult to describe what's going on.

"The low-hanging fruit in the field of quantum information science is simulators, which are one of the early, useful tools that will emerge as a result of investments in quantum information science," he added. This experiment integrated techniques that are now quite common in laboratories studying atomic physics.

"All of the technologies are well-known," he added. "You could even think about this as a black box test for individuals to utilize, since each component is quite sturdy."

The team's new simulator opens up the possibility of probing and better understanding previously inaccessible quantum phenomena.

"We have created a tool that can help explore the very strange, and often counterintuitive, world of quantum mechanics," said study co-author David Awschalom, a University of Chicago physicist. "This work provides us with a new level of control over quantum states and could pave the way for the development of new devices and materials."

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About the Blogger:

April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on

To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav




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