The behaviour of some of the most elusive particles in the known universe can be simulated using three atoms in a lab, researchers at the Centre for Quantum Technologies (CQT) at the National University of Singapore have found.
Principal Investigator Dimitris G. Angelakis and his group members Changsuk Noh and Blas Rodriguez-Lara have devised a scheme that uses the quantum states of three charged ions to simulate the 'oscillations' of neutrinos. The proposal is published in the March issue of New Journal of Physics.
Neutrinos are pesky things to study: they barely interact with matter and have a very tiny mass. Experiments to study them typically use vast detectors to capture neutrinos produced in the Sun or in particle accelerators. Physicists would like more precise measurements than such experiments have so far yielded since neutrino behaviour could provide a first glimpse of physics beyond the current Standard Model.
The new technique simulates the phenomenon known as neutrino oscillation: neutrinos flipping between their three types - electron, muon and tau - as they propagate. (No, the simulation won't help determine whether neutrinos travel faster than light, unfortunately.)
In the scheme, the three neutrino types are encoded in the quantum states of three ions, each having two energy levels. The ions are contained in an optical trap. Additional lasers set the ions vibrating - the vibrations contribute to making the trapped ions behave mathematically like fast-flying particles - and manipulate the ions' energy states. The team hope to collaborate with experimentalists to realise the quantum simulation.
Neutrino oscillations in standard theory are easily calculated; however, the CQT researchers say the simulator could prove useful in exploring more exotic models of neutrino behaviour. The new scheme could also inspire simulations of other types of particles that come in three families such as quarks, the particles that form protons and neutrons, says Noh, the paper's first author.