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A dissipatively stabilized Mott insulator of photons

Naturevolume 566pages5157 (2019) | Download Citation


Superconducting circuits are a competitive platform for quantum computation because they offer controllability, long coherence times and strong interactions—properties that are essential for the study of quantum materials comprising microwave photons. However, intrinsic photon losses in these circuits hinder the realization of quantum many-body phases. Here we use superconducting circuits to explore strongly correlated quantum matter by building a Bose–Hubbard lattice for photons in the strongly interacting regime. We develop a versatile method for dissipative preparation of incompressible many-body phases through reservoir engineering and apply it to our system to stabilize a Mott insulator of photons against losses. Site- and time-resolved readout of the lattice allows us to investigate the microscopic details of the thermalization process through the dynamics of defect propagation and removal in the Mott phase. Our experiments demonstrate the power of superconducting circuits for studying strongly correlated matter in both coherent and engineered dissipative settings. In conjunction with recently demonstrated superconducting microwave Chern insulators, we expect that our approach will enable the exploration of topologically ordered phases of matter.

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The experimental data and numerical simulations presented in this manuscript are available from the corresponding author upon request.

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We thank M. Hafezi and A. Houck for discussions. This work was supported by Army Research Office grant W911NF-15-1-0397 and by the University of Chicago Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC), which is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under award number DMR-1420709. D.I.S. acknowledges support from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; R.M. acknowledges support from the MRSEC-funded Kadanoff-Rice Postdoctoral Research Fellowship; C.O. is supported by the NSF Graduate Research Fellowships Program. This work made use the Pritzker Nanofabrication Facility at the University of Chicago, which receives support from NSF ECCS-1542205.

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Nature thanks A. Daley, K. Hazzard and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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  1. Department of Physics and James Frank Institute, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA

    • Ruichao Ma
    • , Brendan Saxberg
    • , Clai Owens
    • , Nelson Leung
    • , Yao Lu
    • , Jonathan Simon
    •  & David I. Schuster


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R.M., B.S., C.O., J.S. and D.I.S. designed and developed the experiments. R.M. and B.S. performed the device fabrication, measurements and analysis, with assistance from N.L. and Y.L. All authors contributed to the preparation of the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ruichao Ma.

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  1. Supplementary Information

    This file contains Supplementary Sections A-G, including Supplementary Figures 1-12, Supplementary Tables 1-3 and Supplementary references – see contents page for details

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