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Scanning Tunnelling Microscope

A scanning tunnelling microscope similar to this one captured an atom as it lost its quantum state. Credit: Stan Olszewski for IBM/CC BY-ND 2.0

Quantum physics

Bearing witness as an atom loses its quantum ‘fuzziness’

A single electron kicks an iron atom out of multiple quantum states.

A single iron atom has been observed in unprecedented detail as it sheds the ‘fuzziness’ of its quantum states.

Quantum computers perform calculations on the basis of quantum properties that allow atoms to be ‘fuzzy’ — that is, to exist in multiple states at once. But as an atom interacts with its environment over time, it loses this quantum feature and occupies only one state. This loss of fuzziness limits the capabilities of quantum computers.

To better understand this process, a team led by Andreas Heinrich of the IBS Center for Quantum Nanoscience in Seoul and Christopher Lutz of the IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose, California, used a scanning tunnelling microscope to study single iron atoms. After delivering a stream of electrons through the microscope’s tip, the team saw that, in most cases, interaction with an individual electron was enough to shift the atom to only one quantum state.

Changes to the magnetic properties of the microscope’s tip also affected how long the atom remained in multiple quantum states. Such techniques could be used to design and build nanostructures atom by atom to improve the performance of quantum devices, the authors write.

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Selected materials found in the gut contents of Tollund Man

The intestinal contents of a man killed in a prehistoric ritual (clockwise from upper left): barley, charred food that had been encrusted in a clay pot, flax seeds and sand. Credit: Peter Steen Henriksen, the Danish National Museum


The guts of a ‘bog body’ reveal sacrificed man’s final meal

Tollund Man, who lived more than 2,000 years ago, ate well before he was hanged.
Illustration of Earth with white lines showing the magnetic field.

Earth’s magnetic field (depicted as white lines in this artist’s impression) can be studied with observations from a constellation of commercial satellites. Credit: Mikkel Juul Jensen/Science Photo Library


Telecoms satellites’ new purpose: spying on Earth’s magnetic field

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Ageing of an artwork with graphene

After 130 hours of artificial ageing by visible light, the painting Triton and Nereid has lost some of the purple tint to the figures’ right, but a graphene film kept the bright pink at upper left undimmed. Credit: M. Kotsidi et al./Nature Nanotechnol.

Materials science

A graphene cloak keeps artworks’ colours ageless

A layer of carbon atoms preserves a painting’s vibrant hues — and can be applied and removed without damage.
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