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Quantum simulation of Unruh radiation


The exploration of quantum phenomena in a curved spacetime is an emerging interdisciplinary area at the interface between general relativity1,2,3,4, thermodynamics4,5,6 and quantum information7,8. One famous prediction in this field is Unruh thermal radiation3—the manifestation of thermal radiation from a Minkowski vacuum when viewed in an accelerating reference frame. Here, we report the experimental observation of a matter field with thermal fluctuations that agree with Unruh’s predictions. The matter field is generated within a framework for the simulation of quantum physics in a non-inertial frame, based on Bose–Einstein condensates that are parametrically modulated9 to make their evolution replicate the frame transformation. We further observe long-range phase coherence and temporal reversal of the matter-wave radiation, hallmarks that distinguish Unruh radiation from its classical counterpart. Our demonstration offers a new avenue for the investigation of the dynamics of quantum many-body systems in a curved spacetime.

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Fig. 1: Quantum simulation of Unruh radiation.
Fig. 2: Thermal behaviour of the matter-wave emission.
Fig. 3: Long-range phase correlation of matter-wave radiation.
Fig. 4: Time reversal of the matter-wave radiation field.

Data availability

The data that support the plots within this paper and other findings of this study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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We thank R. M. Wald, N. D. Gemelke and L. W. Clark for helpful discussions and reading the manuscript. We thank K. Levin’s group for providing the numerical solver. We thank F. Fung for graphics preparation. L.F. acknowledges support from an MRSEC-funded graduate research fellowship. This work is supported by National Science Foundation (NSF) grant no. PHY-1511696, the Army Research Office Multidisciplinary Research Initiative under grant W911NF-14-1-0003 and the University of Chicago Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, which is funded by the NSF under grant no. DMR-1420709.

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J.H. proposed this idea. J.H., L.F. and Z.Z. performed the experiments, built the theoretical model and analysed the data. C.C. supervised the work. All the authors contributed to discussing the results and writing the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jiazhong Hu.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Journal peer review information: Nature Physics thanks Giovanni Modugno and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Hu, J., Feng, L., Zhang, Z. et al. Quantum simulation of Unruh radiation. Nat. Phys. 15, 785–789 (2019).

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