Researchers at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) have made a significant breakthrough in the development of quantum devices. Quantum mechanics, a branch of physics that focuses on the behavior of particles at a very small scale, has opened up new possibilities for powerful and efficient technologies in areas such as computing, communication, and energy.
The team at OIST, in collaboration with scientists from the University of Kaiserslautern-Landau and the University of Stuttgart, has designed and built an engine that harnesses the principles of quantum mechanics to generate power. Unlike traditional engines that rely on burning fuel, this quantum engine exploits the unique behaviors of particles at the quantum level.
In a classical engine, fuel and air are ignited within a chamber, creating an explosion that heats the gas and produces work to turn the wheels of a car. In contrast, the quantum engine replaces heat with a change in the quantum properties of the gas particles. At low temperatures, particles can be classified as either bosons or fermions. Bosons have a lower energy state than fermions, and this energy difference can be used to power the engine.
The researchers explained that by cyclically converting fermions into bosons and breaking them up again, the quantum engine can operate without the need for heat. This unique approach offers high efficiency, with the current experimental setup achieving up to 25% efficiency.
While the quantum engine shows promise, there are still challenges to be overcome before it can be used in practical applications. Heat can destroy the quantum effects, necessitating extremely low temperatures, which require substantial energy to maintain. Additionally, further research is needed to optimize the engine’s performance and explore its applicability in other devices such as batteries and sensors.
This exciting development in the field of quantum mechanics paves the way for advancements in quantum technologies, although the realization of quantum-powered engines for everyday use is still a long way off.
– “A quantum engine in the BEC–BCS crossover” by Jennifer Koch, Keerthy Menon, Eloisa Cuestas, Sian Barbosa, Eric Lutz, Thomás Fogarty, Thomas Busch and Artur Widera, Nature (DOI: 10.1038/s41586-023-06469-8)