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Quantum tunnelling from the Steinberg group among “quantum highlights” for 2020

Physics World has selected the quantum tunnelling-time experiment as one of their quantum highlights for 2020.

This story was originally published on the U of T Physics website.

This pandemic-blighted year isn’t going to top anyone’s list of favourites, but looking on the bright side for a moment, 2020 has seen some remarkable advances in quantum science and technology. Here are a few of the highlights from subfields ranging from quantum fundamentals to quantum computing.

These advances include:

Measuring quantum tunnelling time 

How long does a particle take to tunnel through an energy barrier? To the physicists in the first “golden age” of quantum mechanics, who stumbled across tunnelling while playing around with the Schrödinger equation in the mid-1920s, the question would have seemed outlandish. Such is the progress in quantum fundamentals, however, that we now have an answer. In July, physicists led by Aephraim Steinberg of the University of Toronto, Canada, found that ultracold rubidium-87 atoms spent 0.62 ms tunnelling through a barrier 10 000 times wider than their diameter. While Steinberg acknowledges that his team’s definition of tunnelling time is not the only one available, their experiment sheds much-needed light on a phenomenon that remains poorly understood despite lying at the heart of practical technologies such as scanning tunnelling microscopes and flash memories.

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