Physicists have shown that superconducting circuits can function as piston-like mechanical quantum engines. The new perspective may help researchers design quantum computers and other devices with improved efficiencies. The physicists, Kewin Sachtleben, Kahio T. Mazon, and Luis G. C. Rego at the Federal University of Santa Catarina in Florianópolis, Brazil, have published a paper on their work on superconducting qubits in a recent issue of Physical Review Letters.
In their study, the physicists explain that superconducting circuits are functionally equivalent to quantum systems in which quantum particles tunnel in a double-quantum well. These wells have the ability to oscillate, meaning the width of the well changes repeatedly.
When this happens, the system behaves somewhat like a piston that moves up and down in a cylinder, which changes the volume of the cylinder. This oscillatory behaviour allows work to be performed on the system.
The researchers show that, in the double-quantum well, part of this work comes from quantum coherent dynamics, which creates friction that decreases the work output. These results provide a better understanding of the connection between quantum and classical thermodynamic work.
"The distinction between 'classical' thermodynamic work, responsible for population transfer, and a quantum component, responsible for creating coherences, is an important result," Mazon told in an interview.
"The creation of coherences, in turn, generates a similar effect to friction, causing a not-completely-reversible operation of the engine. In our work we have been able to calculate the reaction force caused on the quantum piston wall due to the creation of coherences. In principle this force can be measured, thus constituting the experimental possibility of observing the emergence of coherences during the operation of the quantum engine."
One of the potential benefits of viewing superconducting qubits as quantum engines is that it may allow researchers to incorporate quantum coherent dynamics into future technologies, in particular quantum computers.
The physicists explain that a similar behaviour can be seen in nature, where quantum coherences improve the efficiency of processes such as photosynthesis, light sensing, and other natural processes.
"Quantum machines may have applications in the field of quantum information, where the energy of quantum coherences is used to perform information manipulation in the quantum regime," Mazon said.
"It is worth remembering that even photosynthesis can be described according to the working principles of a quantum machine, so unraveling the mysteries of quantum thermodynamics can help us to better understand and interpret various natural processes."