(Gizmodo) A team at Stanford has recently published the results of a system that could discern the smallest units of vibration in a tiny oscillator using a quantum bit, an important step toward more advanced quantum computation.
Phonons are individual units of sound or vibrational energy (similar to how photons are individual units of light or electromagnetic energy). Since they’re quantum objects, phonons also follow the rules of quantum mechanics. You can imagine a qubit where its different “states” are represented by the presence of one or two phonons. It’s especially difficult to resolve these different phonon states—it would require a sort of microphone with more precision than the energy of one phonon.
Such a microphone would add some important enhancements to quantum computer functionality. If you could convert the information on a qubit into phonons, you might be able to find ways to temporarily store this quantum information, or further convert it into photons to send over a quantum link. That’s basically what the Stanford researchers were able to show. They constructed tiny oscillators with specially-engineered regions that trapped individual units of energy when the system was held at supercooled temperatures.