The Colombian looking for more precise watches with quantum mechanics

This year the quantum physics was the protagonist in Nobel Prize that recognizes the advances in this science. The award was given the French Alain Aspect, the American John Clauser and the Austrian Anton Zeilinger for his discoveries in the field of quantum mechanics, for his pioneering work with what is known as the “quantum entanglement”.

In Colombia, this year the Alejandro Ángel Escobar Prize in Physics –considered the highest scientific award in the country– was also won by a scientist who works in this field. Edwin Eduardo Pedrozo, scientific researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the MIT-Harvard Center for Ultracold Atoms, which seeks to improve optical atomic clocks (ultra-precise devices to measure time), also with quantum entanglement.

Edwin Eduardo Pedrozo Peñafiel Research Scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

In 2011, Pedrozo coincided with Alain Aspect at the Atomic Physics Laboratory of the Optics Group (IFSC) at the University of São Paulo (Brazil). The meeting made the Frenchman become an inspiration and reference for the Colombian physicist, who in an interview with EL TIEMPO spoke about his own work and what the 2022 Nobel Prize represents as an advance for science and humanity.

How does your work relate to that of Nobel laureates?

My job is to improve quantum sensors using a fundamental concept of quantum mechanics. That concept, which is one of the most intriguing throughout the entire history of not just physics, but all of science, is called quantum entanglement; in English, quantum entanglement. It has been a rather strange concept in quantum mechanics and has been debated for many years by great physicists, from Einstein to Bohr.

What does your research consist of?

In bringing quantum entanglement practically to optical atomic clocks. They are devices that use atoms to measure the passage of time. Atoms can be used to measure time because any system that allows us to quantize oscillations allows us to calculate frequency, directly or inversely related to time. For example, the ancients measured time by how long it took for the Earth to revolve around the Sun or to reach the same season to grow crops. They called that a period and it had a frequency, it was something that was repeated.

Why are these watches important?

They are the most precise devices ever invented by the human race, to measure frequency and time.

The work that won the Nobel Prize for Physics speaks of quantum teleportation. What is?

That is why they gave the award to Anton Zeilinger, he was the first to carry out quantum teleportation experiments between two objects, in this case photons, which are the smallest particle that light is composed of, for example. Unlike the idea of ​​teleportation seen in science fiction, information is transferred here rather than matter itself.

In daily life, how can this be evidenced?

I’m going to take an example from Alain Aspect: let’s think of two twins, one with black eyes and the other with blue eyes. Only when I look at them, take off the blindfold, do I know what color they are. Now let’s think that they are in different cities, one in Bogotá, the other in Barranquilla, and they are quantumly entangled. When I remove the blindfold from the one in Bogotá, I find that the eyes are blue, then the color of the eyes of the twin in Barranquilla collapses, as it is called in physics, and they become blue. That technology of generating quantum entangled photons is already quite common.

How does this intertwining occur?

We don’t really know what’s going on, we know it works like that, but I don’t think anyone knows what’s really going on, that’s why Einstein called it phantasmagorical action at a distance, because of how mysterious quantum mechanics is.

Why is the work recognized by the Nobel important?

It is proof that quantum mechanics is true. They are proving its basic foundations, they opened new areas to everything that is known as information and quantum computing. I would like to add that Einstein did not like this uncertainty, he said that there must be something that we did not know, that we were not taking into account, known as hidden variables. Something was missing to determine the results accurately. This thing about the twins changing the color of their eyes instantly, made no sense to him, contrary to what quantum mechanics predicted. Even one of the results of the scientists’ experiment shows, as Aspect says, that “the theory of quantum mechanics withstands all attacks,” proves that it is not wrong.

Edwin Eduardo Pedrozo Peñafiel Research Scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Did you check that there are no hidden variables?

They proved that such variables are neither needed nor exist. For Einstein it was simply that the twin already had a blue eye, he was ready, but physicists show that he is not.

Why is it a contribution to quantum computing?

Quantum systems have the most powerful weapon: quantum superposition. This means that the amount of information that can be processed is gigantic.

What is quantum superposition?

It is explained with an example: the scientist Schrödinger did an experiment in which he put a cat in a dark box with a poison that it could or could not consume. 50 percent pointed to his being alive and the other 50 to his being dead. He could be in two states at once. In quantum mechanics there is exactness: he is dead or he is alive.

On a day-to-day basis, where would the impact of this new technology be seen?

There are many problems in physics, engineering and chemistry that cannot be solved with classical computers (what we normally use), but with quantum ones. For example, they help make new molecules that are used in some drug or medicine. This with common computers is very difficult, without exaggeration, there are calculations that could take a thousand years, but in a quantum computer it could be in a day, an hour. This allows us to have access to a tool that helps us develop new technologies. We think that quantum entanglement is something distant when it is not, all devices are based on quantum mechanics. It is close, science is with us.

What do you mean when you say that the devices are based on quantum mechanics?

Much of the technology, such as computers, cell phones, laser systems and magnetic resonance imaging, work based on quantum mechanics, your cell phone is made of millions of transistors and diodes, which are used to create an integrated circuit; which sends signals for the operation of the device.

Could this advance be implemented in Colombia?

These systems so far are quite complex, but they can be transferred to Colombia. There is a lot of talent, we just have to think about infrastructure and human capital. We need help if we want results with impact and benefits for society.


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The Colombian looking for more precise watches with quantum mechanics