A breakthrough has emerged from the University of Chicago, revealing the inaugural evidence of “quantum superchemistry.” This phenomenon entails particles sharing a quantum state engaging in collective accelerated reactions, a predicted yet previously unobserved occurrence. Published in Nature Physics on July 24, these findings inaugurate a new scientific realm.
The fascination centers around “quantum-enhanced” chemical reactions, with potential applications in quantum chemistry, quantum computing, and various technologies, while also enriching our comprehension of the universe's laws. Cheng Chin, a physics professor and member of the James Franck Institute and Enrico Fermi Institute, affirmed that their observations aligned with theoretical forecasts, marking an exhilarating epoch after two decades of scientific pursuit.
Chin's laboratory specializes in manipulating particles at incredibly low temperatures, nearing absolute zero, where particles can congregate in the same quantum state, revealing peculiar abilities and behaviors.
Previously, it was theorized that a cluster of atoms and molecules in this shared quantum state would exhibit distinct behavior during chemical reactions, a concept hindered by experimental complexities that prevented its observation.
Chin's team excels in aligning atoms into quantum states, but tackling molecules, which are more intricate and larger, necessitated innovative methods.
During their experiments, cesium atoms were cooled and coerced into a unified quantum state. Subsequently, the researchers observed the atoms combining to form molecules.
In classical chemistry, individual atoms collide, each collision carrying a probability of yielding a molecule. However, quantum mechanics suggests that atoms in a quantum state act collectively.
Chin elaborated, “Chemical reactions are no longer mere collisions between independent particles; they become collective processes, where all react as a cohesive unit.”
One intriguing outcome is the accelerated pace of reaction under these conditions. Interestingly, the greater the number of atoms in the system, the swifter the reaction unfolds.
Furthermore, resulting molecules share identical molecular states. Chin clarified that molecules in varying states can display diverse physical and chemical properties, but occasions arise when a specific molecular state is desired. In conventional chemistry, this is akin to rolling dice. Chin explained, “Through this technique, however, molecules can be guided into an identical state.”
Shu Nagata, a co-author and graduate student, added that evidence indicated the reactions often occurred as three-body interactions rather than two-body interactions. In essence, three atoms would collide, two would form a molecule, while the third played a contributing role in the reaction.
The researchers envision this breakthrough as a catalyst for a new era. While they conducted this experiment with simple two-atom molecules, their ambition extends to mastering larger and more intricate molecules.
Chin remarked, “Our pursuit of comprehending and advancing quantum engineering, delving into the realm of intricate molecules, stands as a pivotal trajectory in the scientific community.”
Within the field, some foresee molecules serving as qubits in quantum computing or facilitating quantum information processing. Meanwhile, other scientists explore them as gateways to heightened precision in gauging fundamental laws and interactions. This entails scrutinizing the universe's bedrock principles, such as assessing symmetry violation.
Contributors Zhendong Zhang (Ph.D., currently at Stanford University) and Kai-Xuan Yao (Ph.D., now at Citadel) also played roles in this research endeavor.
Source: University of Chicago