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Gizmorama - December 6, 2017

Good Morning,

We're heading toward some science topics that seem a bit scary, well, at least to me. Enjoy a pair of stories dealing with quantum computing and the nature of dark matter. I've got chills!

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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*-- Australian scientists invent important component for quantum computing --*

A team of scientists in Australia has developed an important new quantum computing component called a microwave circulator. Researchers say their invention will allow for the scaling-up of quantum computers.

The component is the first practical realization of the theoretical work describing topological insulators -- work that garnered the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Topological insulators are materials that operate as a unique phase of matter. The materials' internal structures operate as insulators, while their surfaces serve as conductors.

By manipulating these materials, scientists were able to build a circuit interface capable of mediating the interactions between quantum and classical systems. Such a component is essential to the construction of a real-world quantum computer.

The microwave circulator works like a traffic roundabout, sending electric signals in only a single direction, clockwise or counter-clockwise.

Commercial circulators, found in mobile communication base stations and radar systems, are prohibitively bulky.

Using topological insulators, scientists at the University of Sydney succeeded in miniaturizing the technology. The new materials allow scientists to effectively slow the speed of light, which allowed them to shrink the component without sacrificing performance. Scientists believe their breakthrough will allow for many circulators to be integrated onto a single computer chip.

Researchers believe the breakthrough will allow scientists to develop practical quantum computers, capable of performing real-world functions.

"It is not just about qubits, the fundamental building blocks for quantum machines. Building a large-scale quantum computer will also need a revolution in classical computing and device engineering," David Reilly, a professor at the University of Sydney, said in a news release.

The qubit is a two-state quantum-mechanical system, or system with two possible states -- a particle that can exist simultaneously in two different forms. The phenomenon is called qauntum superposition. When one quantum state is manipulated, the manipulation can be measured in the other quantum state, enabling the teleportation of information.

So far, scientists have only been able to develop rather simple quantum computers.

"Even if we had millions of qubits today, it is not clear that we have the classical technology to control them," Reilly said. "Realizing a scaled-up quantum computer will require the invention of new devices and techniques at the quantum-classical interface."

The newly invented microwave circulator -- detailed this week in the journal Nature Communications -- is one such device.

"Such compact circulators could be implemented in a variety of quantum hardware platforms, irrespective of the particular quantum system used," said Alice Mahoney, doctoral candidate and lead author of the new study.

Though a practical quantum computer is still several years away, scientists believe their latest breakthrough sets the stage for the advancements necessary to realize such a device.

*--- First DAMPE data promises insights into the nature of dark matter ---*

Scientists working on the Dark Matter Particle Explorer mission may have found hints -- but not direct evidence -- of dark matter.

The DAMPE mission involves the collaboration of dozens of scientists, all searching for insight into the nature of dark matter. This week, the group published their first paper -- in the journal Nature -- using data collected by the DAMPE satellite.

The DAMPE satellite is designed to look for evidence of decaying WIMPs, or weakly interacting massive particles, a dark matter candidate. The space observatory features a stack of interwoven detector strips capable of measuring high energy gamma rays, electrons and cosmic ray ions.

Researchers have yet to directly confirm the existence of dark matter, but scientists hypothesize the collision of dark matter particles like WIMPs yield ordinary particles and antiparticles.

Now, for the first time, scientists may have proof that dark matter collisions indeed produce odd particle pairs, electrons and positrons.

Positrons are the antimatter counterpart of the electron. Together the duo form cosmic rays. So far, DAMPE has measured 1.5 million pairs of cosmic ray-forming electrons and positrons above a specific energy threshold. However, when researchers plotted the number of pairs against their energy, they failed to produce a smooth curve as expected.

According to the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the break in the curve could be the "result of nearby cosmic ray sources or exotic physical processes" -- like the collision of dark matter particles.

"It may be evidence of dark matter," said Chang Jin, CAS researcher and leader of the DAMPE mission.

DAMPE researchers say more evidence is needed to explore the unusual spectral blip revealed by the latest data. Even if the break in the curve isn't evidence of dark matter, the data anomalies could help scientists better understand other phenomena responsible for the production of cosmic, including black holes, pulsars and galactic collisions.


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