PhoQus: Quantum Technologies at IPFN

The Quantum Plasmas team at IPFN has just been awarded an important European grant to investigate quantum technologies based on quantum states of light. This grant, with a total budget of 3 million euros, was awarded under the Horizon 2020 Quantum Technologies pilot program and involves a consortium of nine top European institutions, including Imperial College in the UK and the University of Sorbonne in France.

This challenging project involves the theoretical and experimental study of the so-called quantum fluids of light. Light may be described as a gas of particles (photons), but under certain conditions – such as inside a cloud of cold atoms or in an ultracold plasma – it acquires new properties, behaving like a quantum fluid. This strange state of matter presents unique properties of coherence, which will be explored in the development of platforms for quantum simulation.

In a nutshell, quantum simulation consists of building archetypes that allow the controlled study of real physical systems that are hard to model. For instance, through quantum simulation we can emulate states of matter existing in solids (typological insulation being a prominent example), but whose manifestation is camouflaged by spurious effects such as noise, imperfections or even physical dimensions.

Also through quantum simulation, we can develop prototypes of quantum computers, where operations of great complexity, such as the known P-NP problem, may one day be accomplished.

The Quantum Plasmas team, which had already built Portugal’s only cold-atom experimental setup, will be part of this important European consortium in the strategic area of Quantum Technologies. The IST team will manage 12% of the total funding being in charge of the experimental study of light fluids in rubidium vapours and Rydberg plasmas.

In particular, Rydberg plasmas consist in an extreme state of matter produced by photo-ionization of a cloud of cold atoms, with an ionic temperature of 100 micro-Kelvin. This project will foster the development of the already existing experiment, allowing the controlled ionization of the cloud of cold atoms, leading to the creation of ultra-cold plasma.

In addition, the team will focus on the theoretical and experimental study of a new, exotic light fluid called photon bubbles, which results from the photon turbulence within the clouds of cold matter. This may lead to important insight on the behaviour of radiation inside the stars.

The challenging study of light fluids, which is of interest to different scientific communities, is now pioneered in the context of plasma physics. This will surely result in new advances for this field and, in particular, for IPFN and for IST.