Photon-Mediated Interactions Between Distant Artificial Atoms

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Science  20 Dec 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6165, pp. 1494-1496
DOI: 10.1126/science.1244324

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Artificial Complexity

Quantum optics probes the interactions between light and matter. Building up from a simple, single-atom system, the exchange of virtual photons between systems of several (or many) atoms is expected to give rise to many exotic effects. Because controlling the separation of the atoms on the atomic scale is experimentally challenging, artificial atom systems may provide a more tractable route for systematic study, as described by van Loo et al. (p. 1494, published online 14 November). Using a system of two separate superconducting qubits in a microwave transmission line, they show how the interaction between the two qubits can be controlled and mediated by electromagnetic modes. The results illustrate a feasible route to probing the complexity of many-body effects that may otherwise be difficult to realize.


Photon-mediated interactions between atoms are of fundamental importance in quantum optics, quantum simulations, and quantum information processing. The exchange of real and virtual photons between atoms gives rise to nontrivial interactions, the strength of which decreases rapidly with distance in three dimensions. Here, we use two superconducting qubits in an open one-dimensional transmission line to study much stronger photon-mediated interactions. Making use of the possibility to tune these qubits by more than a quarter of their transition frequency, we observe both coherent exchange interactions at an effective separation of 3λ/4 and the creation of super- and subradiant states at a separation of one photon wavelength λ. In this system, collective atom-photon interactions and applications in quantum communication may be explored.

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