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Scientists Observe Quantum Boomerang Effect For The First Time

By: April Carson

A "quantum boomerang" effect has been observed for the first time in the quantum world by UC Santa Barbara physicists, who are now claiming to be the first to do so. When particles in a disordered system are kicked out of their places, they instead spin around and return to where they began before halting.

"It's as if you took a disordered system and injected some energy into it, and then the system found a way to get rid of that excess energy by just spinning around," said study lead author Nathan Wiebe, a postdoctoral scholar in UCSB's Department of Physics.

"It's really a rather basic quantum mechanical effect," said David Weld, a physicist who works at the University of Alberta in Canada and produced the effect and recorded it in a paper published in Physical Review X. "There isn't any simple explanation for this occurrence."

The boomerang effect has its origins in a phenomenon that Philip Anderson hypothesized about 60 years ago, which he called Anderson localization. According to the paper's lead author Roshan Sajjad, the disorder can be caused by any number of things, including impurities, faults, misalignments, and other disturbances in a material's atomic lattice.

"Electrons will be trapped, as is clearly visible," Sajjad added. This sort of issue will prevent them from travelling very far, according to Sajjad. As a result, instead of flowing along the lattice, electrons localize and become insulators. The quantum boomerang effect was predicted several years ago as a consequence of this rather sticky quantum condition.

But Sajjad and his colleagues have now shown that, under the right circumstances, it is possible to get electrons to flow in a disordered lattice after all. "Our experiment is the first observation of this novel transport phenomenon," said co-author Alexey Melnikov.

It's very difficult, if not presently impossible, to launch disordered electrons away from their intended position and track them to see what happens, but the Weld Lab had a few tools up its sleeve. The researchers were able to generate the lattice and disorder, as well as observe the launch and return of the boomerang by generating a gas of 100,000 ultracold lithium atoms suspended in a standing wave of light "kicking" them emulating a quantum kicked rotor ("similar to a periodically kicked pendulum," both Weld and Sajjad said). They utilized momentum space, which avoids some experimental issues while keeping the boomerang effect's fundamental physics unchanged.

"In usual position space, if you're searching for the boomerang effect, you'd start with a system with zero average momentum and look for any departure followed by a return to zero average momentum," Sajjad continued. "Because we're in momentum space, we begin with a system that is at rest and search for some change before a return to rest."

By pulsing the lattice with their quantum kicked rotor, they jiggled it hundreds of times and observed a change in average momentum. Despite multiple kicks, however, average momentum reverted to zero after time.

"There's nothing inherently wrong with it," Weld added. In a conventional system, he said, such as the one described earlier, a rotor would respond by constantly absorbing energy from the kicks. "Take a quantum version of the same thing; what you see is that it starts gaining energy at short intervals but eventually stops and never absorbs any more energy. It becomes a dynamically localized state."

The waves that arise in a quantum system," he noted, "are very similar to the ripples caused by an object dropped into still water. But whereas those ripples eventually disperse and vanish, the wave function of a quantum system can linger indeterminately.

"It's as if you have these little eddies that are constantly forming and dissipating," he said, "but the system as a whole doesn't change its state."

"That thing you're shoving away is not only a particle, but it's also a wave, and that's an important idea in quantum mechanics," Weld added. "Because of its wave-like nature, it is affected by interference, which stabilizes the return and residency at the origin due to this system's interference." In their study, the researchers demonstrated that boomerang effects were produced by periodic kicks with time-reversal symmetry, but randomly timed kicks would destroy both the symmetry and the boomerang effect.

Next, the Weld Lab goes after: What's cooler than a single boomerang effect? How much more of a party would it be to have numerous interacting boomerang effects if individual boomerang effects are fun?

"There are a lot of theories and inquiries about what should happen—would interactions with the boomerang be harmful? Are there any intriguing many-body effects? The second fascinating thing is that we can actually use the system to investigate the boomerang in higher dimensions. " said Sajjad.

Now that they have observed the quantum boomerang effect, the Weld Lab will continue to explore other ways in which this discovery could be used.

For example, the team is interested in whether they can use their system to study higher dimensional versions of the boomerang effect.

"We want to know what happens when you have many different particles that are all interacting with each other in a high-dimensional space," said Sajjad. "Are there any interesting many-body effects that we can observe? And can we use this system to study the boomerang in higher dimensions?"

The team's findings have been published in the journal Nature Physics.

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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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