“Spooky action at a distance,” Einstein’s famous, dismissive characterization of quantum entanglement, has long been established as a physical phenomenon, and researchers are keen to develop practical applications for entanglement including communication, encryption, and computing.
Quantum entanglement is a phenomenon in which the production or the interactions of a number of particles cannot be described independently of each other, and must instead be described in terms of the whole system’s quantum state.
Two recent experiments with entanglement have been reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, one proving that complex quantum states in photons can be preserved even in turbulent atmospheric conditions; the other demonstrating entanglement swapping between qubits over the 143 kilometers between the Canary Islands and Tenerife.
In the first experiment, a group of Austrian researchers sought to transmit complex, quantum-encoded information through turbulent air. The polarization of photons is a robust technique favored for long-distance entanglement research in which two photons with mutually perpendicular polarizations exist in different locations. The state is easily controllable and resistant to atmospheric turbulence. But polarization is a binary state that cannot easily carry complex information. The encoding of more complex information in an entangled system—for instance, a jpeg image of Albert Einstein shaking his fist at entangled photons–would require a much larger space state than the two-dimensional space state of polarization.
The researchers used photons with a twisted phase front, which carry an unbounded amount of orbital angular momentum (OAM)—a much larger space state than polarization. In principle, OAM offers the possibility of practical applications like quantum encryption and the testing of fundamental properties of quantum physics. But OAM is quite sensitive to atmospheric turbulence. However, the researchers succeeded in distributing the quantum entanglement of spatially structured photons over a free-space link across the city of Vienna.
In the experiment, the sender, traditionally known in quantum entanglement experiments as Alice, and the receiver, Bob, were in different physical locations three kilometers apart. Alice was in a 35-meter-high radar tower with a high-fidelity, high-brightness entanglement source that produced entangled pairs. Photon A remained unchanged, while photon B’s polarization state was transferred interferometrically to a generated hybrid-entangled quantum OAM state.
Photon A was delayed via a 30 meter fiber cable to ensure that it was not measured before photon B was transferred to Bob, on the other side of the city. After the transfer, the polarization of photon A was measured and each detection event time-stamped. Similarly, the detection of photon B was time-stamped and the two events were correlated at a sub-nanosecond regime. The researchers verified quantum entanglement of the pairs through turbulent atmosphere. Though they were still using a two-dimensional space state, the method allows for a quantum link with up to 11 orthogonal channels of OAM.
They write, “Our result clearly shows that entanglement encoded in OAM can be identified after long-distance transmission. It is not fundamentally limited by atmospheric turbulence, as expected in some recent investigation, and thus could be a feasible way to distribute high-dimensional entanglement.”
In the second experiment, another group that included many of the same researchers teleported an entangled state between two qubits, a process known as entanglement swapping. This is in contrast to the teleportation of a single quantum state from one qubit to another; in essence, the researchers created an entangled state between two qubits located 143 kilometers from each other, and which had never interacted before.
November 6, 2015 by Christopher Packham