Abstract
Quantum phase transitions play an important role in manybody systems and have been a research focus in conventional condensedmatter physics over the past few decades. Artificial atoms, such as superconducting qubits that can be individually manipulated, provide a new paradigm of realising and exploring quantum phase transitions by engineering an onchip quantum simulator. Here we demonstrate experimentally the quantum critical behaviour in a highly controllable superconducting circuit, consisting of four qubits coupled to a common resonator mode. By offresonantly driving the system to renormalize the critical spinfield coupling strength, we have observed a fourqubit nonequilibrium quantum phase transition in a dynamical manner; that is, we sweep the critical coupling strength over time and monitor the fourqubit scaled moments for a signature of a structural change of the system’s eigenstates. Our observation of the nonequilibrium quantum phase transition, which is in good agreement with the driven Tavis–Cummings theory under decoherence, offers new experimental approaches towards exploring quantum phase transitionrelated science, such as scaling behaviours, parity breaking and longrange quantum correlations.
Introduction
In a quantum phase transition (QPT)^{1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8}, the quantum system displays nonanalytic behaviour, which is reflected by a discontinuous change in a property of the ground state or the structure of the excited states, when a system parameter traverses a critical point. In many cases this discontinuous change has a cusplike character, surrounding which quantum fluctuations dominate and novel phenomena can be explored. QPTs are studied in a variety of naturally grown condensed matter materials such as conductors, superconductors and magnets. With the introduction of wellcontrolled quantum elements, ranging from cold atoms, photons and trapped ions to Josephsonjunction qubits, it becomes possible to engineer a quantum simulator, an ordered arrangement of the abovementioned quantum elements, to mimic and investigate the properties of complex interacting quantum materials. Achieving a QPT using finetuning knobs available in an experimentally accessible Hamiltonian presents the first step towards engineering such a simulator for exploring QPTrelated physics in few or manybody interacting quantum systems.
Recently, there has been extensive interest to investigate a QPT in the Dicke model^{9} using artificially engineered systems both experimentally^{10} and theoretically^{11,12}. As another paradigm to investigate light–matter interactions, the Tavis–Cummings (TC) model^{13} is an integrable variant of the Dicke model, which also yields significant interests covering a wide range of configurations such as the multimode resonator^{14} and the TC lattice^{15}. The TC model is derived from the Dicke model in the rotatingwave approximation, which is valid when the spinfield coupling is weak in comparison with other characteristic frequencies of the system. It is generally understood that a QPT can occur in the Dicke model, rather than in the TC model, with the former critical spinfield coupling required to be equal to geometric mean of the spin and field resonance frequencies. However, most laboratoryachievable spinfield couplings can only reach the strengths that are many orders smaller than the Dicke critical coupling strength. Even for some systems with ultrastrong couplings^{16,17}, the Dicke coupling strength is still unreachable. As a result, achieving the Dicke QPT with current laboratory techniques requires additional assistance. For example, it was shown that an external drive in a cold atom system leads to the Dicke Hamiltonian in the rotating frame, yielding a nonequilibrium QPT^{10}.
Since most artificially engineered quantum systems can only reach coupling strengths that are within the TC model^{18,19,20}, it would be of significant interest to see whether a nonequilibrium QPT can be observed within a driven TC model^{21,22}. In comparison with the Dicke model under a drive, no approximation is necessary to transfer the driven TC model from the laboratory frame to the rotating frame. Within the rotating frame, a QPT is indeed predicated^{22} at a critical coupling strength below the Dicke critical coupling strength. This driven TC QPT critical coupling is comparable to the geometric mean of the spin and field detunings from the drive frequency (here and below referred to as the TC critical coupling, in comparison with the Dicke critical coupling).
Here we show experimental evidence confirming the existence of such a nonequilibrium QPT in a driven TC circuit, with four superconducting phase qubits each coupled, at a fixed strength smaller than the Dicke critical coupling by 200 times, to a superconducting coplanar waveguide resonator. We witness the nonequilibrium QPT through a dynamical measurement, by recording the time evolution of the fourspin joint occupation probabilities, while the TC critical coupling strength is swept over time. In the experiment we demonstrate the high level of control possible in our system by offresonantly driving the common resonator mode and subsequently finetuning the qubit frequency to cross the TC QPT critical point, with the results measured at different microwave drive strengths and durations in good agreement with theory.
Results
The system and the Hamiltonian
Our driven TC circuit is built in a circuitquantum electrodynamics (QED) configuration^{23}, which realizes the onchip analogue of cavity QED. Inheriting the high scalability and controllability from microwaveintegrated circuits^{24,25} and benefiting from the significant coherence improvement of superconducting qubits over the past decade^{26,27}, circuit–QED systems based on superconducting qubits and resonators^{28,29} are suitable for building largescale quantum simulators^{30,31,32,33} to study fundamental manybody problems.
Figure 1a,b presents the circuit layout, which consists of four superconducting phase qubits coupled to a common coplanar waveguide resonator^{19}. The resonator frequency is fixed at ω_{r}/2π≅6.2 GHz, around which the resonance frequency of each qubit ( for k=1, 2, 3 or 4) can be individually adjusted. The resonator’s energy decay rate is κ_{1}≅0.4 MHz and its pure dephasing rate κ_{2} is negligible. Because the energy decay rate and the pure dephasing rate for the qubits slightly vary as functions of qubit frequency, we sample their values in a frequency range from 6 to 6.15 GHz and take the average in numerical simulation. The qubits’ energy decay rates are, on average, Γ_{1}≅2.0 MHz and their pure dephasing rates are, on average, Γ_{2}≅4.0 MHz. Couplings between each qubit and the resonator are fixed by designing the coupling capacitors to be nearly identical and therefore we consider a homogenous coupling strength λ/2π=30 MHz in the following treatment (Supplementary Note 5 and Supplementary Fig. 1 for detailed sample parameters).
Applying an external microwave tone at ω_{d}, we may generally describe the Hamiltonian of the system in a rotating frame as,
where N=4, is the detuning of the qubit (resonator) resonance from the drive frequency, a (a^{†}) is the lowering (raising) operator of a single mode of the resonator and , are the k^{th}spin Pauli operators. Ω and are, respectively, the driving strengths to the resonator and to the k^{th} qubit. To understand the nonequilibrium QPT as derived from equation (1), we assume four identical spins for simplicity, and we simultaneously steer all four qubits on the same frequency trajectory ω_{q}(t) as the system evolves, yielding . This assumption applies to our experiment (Supplementary Fig. 5) and reduces the complexity due to parametric inhomogeneity^{34,35}. Under another homogeneous approximation, that is, , the last two terms in equation (1), regarding the drivings on the resonator and the qubits, are unitarily equivalent^{22}. Since our microwave tone in the present experiment is designed to drive the resonator, the effect due to driving the qubits via the unwanted but small microwave crosstalk can be absorbed into that of driving the resonator. As a result, equation (1) is simplified by neglecting the small terms involving in the following treatment.
The original undriven TC model possesses, in theory, a critical coupling at , which is impossible to reach in our circuit. In a rotatingframe variant of the driven TC Hamiltonian shown in equation (1), the qubit (resonator) resonance frequency ω_{q} (ω_{r}) is replaced by the associated detuning Δ_{q} (Δ_{r}), yielding a QPT whose critical point now scales with the geometric mean of the spin and field detunings, that is, . For such an offresonantly driven TC system, the QPT can be traversed by engineering the homogenous coupling strength λ to pass through λ_{c}.
Since λ is fixed in our case, to experimentally observe the QPT, we sweep λ_{c} through λ, that is, we sweep Δ_{q} such that λ/λ_{c} increases linearly with time from 0.5 to 2.5 over a duration of τ (see Fig. 2b inset). The detailed pulse sequence for performing the experiment is illustrated in Fig. 1c: starting with all qubits and the resonator in their own ground states, we turn on the microwave drive at a fixed resonatordrive detuning Δ_{r} and then immediately tune all four qubits to the same frequency such that λ/λ_{c}=0.5. Following this, we sweep the qubit frequency on an asymptotic trajectory (achieving a constant ramping rate for λ/λ_{c}) for a time duration τ. Dynamics of the system during the ramping of λ/λ_{c} are measured by recording the fourqubit joint occupation probabilities as functions of the sweep time. Evidence of the QPT can be witnessed in the change of the inferred mean values of the collective spin operator, that is, , as λ/λ_{c} increases above 1.
We note that our qubit is not an exact spin1/2 system because of its weak anharmonicity, that is, there exists a next higher energy state. The pulse sequence, shown in Fig. 1c, is designed to avoid significant state population leakage to the qubit’s next higher energy state. When probing the fourqubit dynamics we specifically parametrize some relevant Hamiltonian parameters such as the drive strength Ω/2π, the resonatordrive detuning Δ_{r}/2π and the total sweep duration τ under experimental constraints (Supplementary Note 5 for detailed discussions).
The QPT in the driven TC model
Before presenting our experimental results, we first describe the ideal QPT as predicted by theory^{22}, and relate it to our experimental reality. In particular, we try to clarify the quantum critical behaviour in the context of a few qubits coupled to a common resonator mode and discuss the connection between the fewqubit case and the case in the thermodynamic limit; we also try to clarify how the dynamical measurement via a swept ω_{q}(t) (equivalent to uniformly varying λ/λ_{c} over time) correlates with a signature of the QPT. According to ref. 22, the QPT is present when the system switches from a normal phase to a superradiant phase in the rotating frame. In this generic ground state QPT, around the QPT’s critical point (λ/λ_{c}=1) we may observe a sharp cusp in the scaled moments (with γ_{x}=1/2) and (with γ_{z}=1) for λ/λ_{c}⩾1, and also in the mean number of photons with (with γ_{a}=1) for λ/λ_{c}⩾1. The critical exponents γ_{x,z,a} represent the critical scaling behaviour observable in the thermodynamical limit (Supplementary Note 1). In contrast to the cusplike behaviour in the thermodynamic limit, the QPT in the fewqubit case yields 〈J_{z}〉/(N/2) curves that rise in a smooth but abrupt manner (Fig. 2a). Nevertheless, the critical point for the fewqubit case can still be visually identified proximal to λ/λ_{c}=1. Owing to the dissipative nature of our system and the hardware limitation we focus our observation on 〈J_{z}〉/(N/2), whose behaviour around λ/λ_{c}=1 can be a sufficient evidence of the QPT (Discussion and Methods).
The QPT as evidenced in Fig. 2a, by the rise of 〈J_{z}〉/(N/2), is a generic groundstate QPT in the rotating frame^{22}. Starting from the normal ground state at λ/λ_{c}<<1, to reach the superradiant ground state at λ/λ_{c}>1 we have to ramp up λ/λ_{c} very slowly, in accordance with the adiabatic condition. For an open quantum system, the adiabatic condition can be difficult to satisfy since dissipation plays a decisive role, given long enough evolution times. As such, we examine the QPT in a nonadiabatic manner: we ramp up λ/λ_{c} quickly and linearly over durations that range from a few hundred to a thousand nanoseconds (comparable to the qubit energy relaxation time 1/Γ_{1}), in order to minimize the impact of dissipation on the dynamics. During the process we constantly monitor the fourqubit occupation probabilities, from which we calculate 〈J_{z}〉/(N/2) to study its behaviour over time. As a comparison, we numerically model the time evolution of 〈J_{z}〉/(N/2) under open system dynamics as described by equation (1) based on a master equation approach (Supplementary Note 3). As our numerical simulation suggests, excited states of the system can be populated during the evolution, and the population distribution among different eigenstates tends to stabilize after λ/λ_{c} increases above 1.5 (Fig. 2c). In particular, in the nonadiabatic process and under decoherence, 〈J_{z}〉/(N/2) still rises up around λ/λ_{c}=1, in a style (Fig. 2b) very similar to that in Fig. 2a. Therefore, the onset where 〈J_{z}〉/(N/2) rises up abruptly from −1 should correlate well with the critical point of the generic groundstate QPT, which in itself reflects a situation where a qualitative change occurs in the properties of the system’s eigenstates as a function of the Hamiltonian parameter in equation (1) (here ). Our experiment, although involving the system’s higher energy states, should still provide strong evidence for the QPT via the observed abrupt change of 〈J_{z}〉/(N/2) as λ/λ_{c} is tuned through unity.
Experimental observation of the QPT
Following the experimental sequence outlined in Fig. 1c, in Fig. 3a we show the typical dynamics measured at Δ_{r}/2π=−30 MHz, Ω/2π=4 MHz and τ=600 ns, with the 16 fourqubit joint occupation probabilities (P_{0000}, P_{0001}, P_{0010},⋯) evolving with the sweep time t. The choice of a negative Δ_{r} is to minimize the state leakage caused by the microwave drive, which should not affect the dynamics and the QPT physics as calculated using a positive Δ_{r} in Fig. 2. The 16 probabilities can be grouped according to their excitation quanta, and the very close dynamics of the probabilities in the same group suggest that four qubits behave similarly, validating the identical spin assumption in the QPT theory. 〈J_{z}〉/(N/2) can be calculated using these 16 probabilities, as processed in Fig. 3b (points with error bars). By mapping the x axis in time to λ/λ_{c}, we display the 〈J_{z}〉/(N/2) versus λ/λ_{c} curves, with values of Ω as listed and Δ_{r}/2π=−30 MHz, for the cases of τ=600 and 1,000 ns in Fig. 3c,d, respectively (more experimental data for Δ_{r}/2π=−20 MHz can be found in Supplementary Fig. 2). Comparing with those shown in Fig. 2a,b, it is seen that the experimental results have unambiguously caught the main feature of the offresonantly driven QPT, that is, a signature rise of the scaled moment 〈J_{z}〉 as λ/λ_{c} increases above 1, the critical point. We note that the spectral line widths for the qubits and the resonator are defined by their energy relaxation and dephasing rates (Γ_{1}, Γ_{2}, κ_{1} and κ_{2}), all less than values of Δ_{q} (for example, ≈2π × 13 MHz at λ/λ_{c}=1.5 where 〈J_{z}〉 rises to a high level. Note that Δ_{q}<0) and Δ_{r} (=2π × 30 MHz) used in measurements for data in Fig. 3. We also verify that state leakage to the next higher energy state of the qubits is reasonably small during these measurements (Supplementary Fig. 3). As such, the rise around λ/λ_{c}=1 is compatible with the critical point quoted in the context of the nonequilibrium QPT, which reflects a structural change of the system’s eigenstates.
Different from the ideal QPT case in the isolated system, the interplay between the external drive and decoherence irreversibly evolves the system into a nonequilibrium quasisteady state, where the term quasi refers to the fact that 〈J_{z}〉/(N/2) tends to approximately level off at longer sweep times τ. Using typical coherence parameters of our device, we also simulate the experimental conditions for the experimental data shown in Fig. 3b–d (lines). The numerical results show that the system reaches the quasisteady state approximately after λ/λ_{c}>1.5, and the situation slightly varies with Δ_{r}. Nevertheless, our experimental data are in good agreement with numerical simulations taking into account decoherence with no fitted parameters.
Moreover, a faithful simulation requires a clear understanding of the operational imperfections, particularly when the underlying problem is otherwise intractable. As discussed in the Supplementary Note 5, we specifically design the pulse sequence to minimize the dominant experimental imperfections in equation (1), including using appropriate negative detunings of {Δ_{r}, Δ_{q}} and ramping rates of λ/λ_{c} (or equivalently the sweep durations τ). Nevertheless, there are other experimental subtleties that we cannot avoid, for example, slight state leakage (miscounted as 〈J_{z}〉’s signal in the measurements). By taking into account of the state leakage, we find better agreement between the experimental data and theory (details in the Supplementary Note 5).
Discussion
To further understand quantum critical behaviour beyond the observed QPT, we have to return to the noiseless model. We first refer to an undriven TC model in comparison with the driven TC model (equation (1)), in the latter of which the groundstate QPT is related to a breaking of the parity symmetry^{22}. The undriven TC Hamiltonian commutes with a parity operator P=e^{iπL}, where L=J_{z}+a^{†}a+N/2 represents the total number of excitations of the collective system. Parity conservation ensures that 〈J_{x}〉 remains zero and 〈J_{z}〉 increases in a staircase manner as the spinfield coupling λ increases. With increasing λ, it is shown^{22} that level crossings occur, for example, between the ground state and the excited states, after crossing the critical point (that is, purely for theoretical discussion only. Note that by definition is required in the TC model), and this results in discrete parity changes in the state of the system. However, in the driven TC model, with critical point changed from to , the QPT really happens; however, parity is no longer conserved since [H_{0},P]≠0. The broken parity can be associated with avoided level crossings in the eigenspectra, and the excitation number L is no longer conserved. This results in a smooth rise, that is, a ‘rounded’ staircase for 〈J_{z}〉, after crossing the critical point, if the microwave drive is weak enough (note that in the present experiment the weak drive limit is not reached since equation (1) assumes four identical spins, which requires that the drive strength Ω has to cover, at least, the frequency uncertainties while simultaneously tuning all four qubits to follow the same frequency trajectory ω_{q}(t)).
The QPT under consideration also behaves differently from the Dicke QPT^{10} as regards parity. It is a generic Dicke model, rather than a driven Dicke model, achieved in ref. 10, for which parity is conserved in the normal phase. In contrast, no parity is conserved in our driven TC system in either the normal or the superradiant phase. Parity breaking is responsible for some scaling behaviour, and the parity symmetry is relevant to various types of quantum correlations^{36,37}.
The driving in our case not only breaks the parity symmetry of the original TC system, but also helps circumventing the ‘nogo’ theorem due to the restriction from the Thomas–Reiche–Kuhn sum rule^{38,39,40}. As discussed in Supplementary Note 2, the small A^{2} term (with A^{2}=κ(a+a^{†})^{2}), which is neglected in the above treatment but whose appearance might forbid the QPT, turns to be a harmless shift in Δ_{r} in the rotating frame. Therefore, the introduction of the driving profoundly alters the resulting physics, enabling the observation of a nonequilibrium QPT.
Although our data are fully compatible with the nonequilibrium QPT picture as predicted by the offresonant driven TC theory, it is worth noting that currently we cannot exclude the possibility of a semiclassical interpretation of our experiment. In contrast to our experimental condition that involves only finite quantum elements and finite excitation levels in each element, semiclassical treatments employ continuous variables that would work better in the thermodynamic limit. Unfortunately, the relevant semiclassical treatments that we are aware of only deal with specific conditions and are not suitable for interpreting our offresonant driven TC experiment (Supplementary Note 4). Therefore, whether a semiclassical alternative is possible to explain the data remains an open question. Along this route, the tomography measurement of the QPT dynamics, although technically challenging, could allow the exploration of any possible quantum correlations encoded in the QPT, which would be useful to answer the open question as regards a semiclassical alternative in future experiments.
In addition, following on from this work we expect demonstrations of a staircase behaviour in 〈J_{z}〉 and a cusplike behaviour in 〈J_{x}〉 around the critical point, both hallmarks of the generic groundstate QPT, in future experiments using larger numbers of closely identical qubits with improved coherence and more sophisticated control. By further suppressing decoherence we may enable the demonstration of the groundstate QPT in a configuration similar to the present device strictly following the proposed implementation in ref. 22. With recent progress in superconducting quantum information technology and the promising outlook to develop intermediatescale complex quantum circuits, we believe that further exploration of manybody physics in a nonequilibrium condition by building a solidstate quantum simulator with only weak spinfield couplings can be expected in the near future. This will help improve our understanding of the interplay between nonequilibrium and quantum correlations as well as the role of parity symmetry in manybody systems.
Methods
Tuning Ω
The microwave drive strength Ω in equation (1) depends on both the microwave drive amplitude A and the coupling capacitance for feeding energy into the resonator, with the latter being set once the device and the measurement setup are fixed. A is what we usually quote using the roomtemperature electronics. More importantly, the Ω–A relation could weakly depend on the offresonance magnitude of Δ_{r} because of the frequency dependence of the transmission coefficient of the microwave cables at cryogenic temperatures, and the interference by various box modes and spurious twolevel defect modes. To find out the exact Ω used in our experiment, we start with determining the onresonance Ω by calibrating the relation between Ω and A. We resonantly drive the resonator using a singletone microwave pulse with an amplitude A for a period of t (typically 50 ns), after which we bring a qubit, originally in its ground state, to resonantly interact with the resonator for detecting the resonator state^{24}. The microwave drive generates a coherent state in the resonator and the subsequent qubit–resonator interaction results in multitone vacuum Rabi oscillations whose frequencies depend on the resonator populations. We record the time evolution of the qubit probabilities in the excited state for the first 300 ns, from which the energylevel population probabilities of the resonator (P_{n} for n=0, 1, 2, ⋯) are inferred. The resonator energylevel populations satisfy the Poisson distribution and we quote the displacement α, which is the square root of the average photon number in the resonator, by α=(∑_{n}nP_{n})^{1/2}. For a fixed experimental setup and a fixed t, the ratio γ=α/A is a constant, and can be experimentally determined by sampling a group of A and α values. The drive strength is thus Ω=γA/t.
To calibrate the offresonance Ω, we carry out the 2qubit experiment with a similar setup as discussed in Fig. 1, using the onresonance Ω value (=2π × 4 MHz) as an initial trial. The measured results are then compared with numerical simulation, which verifies that Ω values calibrated on resonance are also applicable at small detuning values of Δ_{r} used in the fourqubit experiment (Supplementary Fig. 6 for more detail).
Qubit readout and the correction
The qubit readout is performed using an integrated superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID), which can tell the flux difference between the qubit’s ground and excited states. The readout details can be found in ref. 41. We simultaneously read out all the states of the four qubits (one SQUID for each qubit), therefore, obtaining the 16 probabilities P_{0000}, P_{0001}, P_{0010},..., P_{1111}. These values are corrected before being further processed. The readout fidelities for g〉 (F_{k,g}) and e〉 (F_{k,e}) for qubit Q_{k} are obtained using the singlequbit measurement. The correction matrix for Q_{k} is the inverse of
We correct all 16 values using the inverse of the tensor–product matrix . The correction matrix may be slightly off because of the small flux crosstalk when simultaneously reading out all four qubits, which is a possible reason for that the experimental 〈J_{z}〉/(N/2) value does not start from −1.0 at λ/λ_{c}=0.5 in Fig. 3.
Expectation values of the spin operator J_{z}
After correcting the 16 qubitstate probabilities, we calculate the scaled 〈J_{z}〉 using
where i_{k}=0, 1 represents the ground and excited states of qubit Q_{k}, respectively, and the summation runs over all fourqubit eigenstates corresponding to the 16 probabilities.
To calculate 〈J_{x}〉/(N/2), the fourqubit state tomography must be performed, which requires π/2 rotations on all four qubits (in addition to the microwave tone on the resonator) before readout. We are unable to measure 〈J_{x}〉/(N/2) mainly because of our limited hardware resource. In addition, the involved dynamical phase when performing the tomography could cause extra complexity in calculating 〈J_{x}〉/(N/2). Since J_{z} is not affected by the dynamical phase and its rise traversing λ/λ_{c}=1 can be sufficient proof of the QPT, we choose to only measure 〈J_{z}〉/(N/2) in the experiment.
Additional information
How to cite this article: Feng, M. et al. Exploring the quantum critical behaviour in a driven Tavis–Cummings circuit. Nat. Commun. 6:7111 doi: 10.1038/ncomms8111 (2015).
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Acknowledgements
We thank J.M. Martinis and A.N. Cleland for providing the device used in the experiment. This work is supported by the National Fundamental Research Program of China (Grant Nos 2012CB922102 and 2014CB921201), National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos 11274352, 11147153, 11274351, 11004226 and 11222437), Zhejiang Provincial Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. LR12A04001) and the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence in Engineered Quantum Systems CE110001013. H.W. acknowledges partial support by National Program for Special Support of TopNotch Young Professionals.
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M.F. and J.T. proposed the idea. Y.P.Z. performed the experiments as supervised by H.W., T.L., L.L.Y., W.L.Y., Y.P.Z., H.W. and M.F. carried out the calculation. M.F., H.W. and J.T. wrote the paper. All authors analysed the data, discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.
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Supplementary Figures 16, Supplementary Notes 15 and Supplementary References (PDF 743 kb)
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Feng, M., Zhong, Y., Liu, T. et al. Exploring the quantum critical behaviour in a driven Tavis–Cummings circuit. Nat Commun 6, 7111 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/ncomms8111
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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/ncomms8111
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