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U.S. Dept of Energy Breakthrough: Detecting Dark Matter With Quantum Computers

Dark Matter Sub-Atomic Particle Artist's Concept

In a new breakthrough, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermilab have found a way to detect dark matter using quantum computers.

Dark matter makes up about 27% of the matter and energy budget in the universe, but scientists do not know much about it. They do know that it is cold, meaning that the particles that make up dark matter are slow-moving. It is also difficult to detect dark matter directly because it does not interact with light. However, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) have discovered a way to use quantum computers to look for dark matter.

Aaron Chou, a senior scientist at Fermilab, works on detecting dark matter through quantum science. As part of DOE’s Office of High Energy Physics QuantISED program, he has developed a way to use qubits, the main component of quantum computing systems, to detect single photons produced by dark matter in the presence of a strong magnetic field.

How quantum computers could detect dark matter

A classical computer processes information with binary bits set to either 1 or 0. The specific pattern of ones and zeros makes it possible for the computer to perform certain functions and tasks. In quantum computing, however, qubits exist at both 1 and 0 simultaneously until they are read, due to a quantum mechanical property known as superposition. This property allows quantum computers to efficiently perform complex calculations that a classical computer would take an enormous amount of time to complete.

“Qubits work by manipulating single excitations of information, for example, single photons,” said Chou. “So, if you’re working with such small packets of energy as single excitations, you’re far more susceptible to external disturbances.”

Akash Dixit works on the team that uses quantum computers to look for dark matter. Here, Dixit holds a microwave cavity containing a superconducting qubit. The cavity has holes in its side in the same way the screen on a microwave oven door has holes; the holes are simply too small for microwaves to escape. Credit: Ryan Postel, Fermilab

In order for qubits to operate at these quantum levels, they must reside in carefully controlled environments that protect them from outside interference and keep them at consistently cold temperatures. Even the slightest disturbance can throw off a program in a quantum computer. With their extreme sensitivity, Chou realized quantum computers could provide a way to detect dark matter. He recognized that other dark matter detectors need to be shielded in the same way quantum computers are, further solidifying the idea.

“Both quantum computers and dark matter detectors have to be heavily shielded, and the only thing that can jump through is dark matter,” Chou said. “So, if people are building quantum computers with the same requirements, we asked ‘why can’t you just use those as dark matter detectors?’”

Where errors are most welcome

When dark matter particles traverse a strong magnetic field, they may produce photons that Chou and his team can measure with superconducting qubits inside aluminum photon cavities. Because the qubits have been shielded from all other outside disturbances, when scientists detect a disturbance from a photon, they can infer that it was the result of dark matter flying through the protective layers.

“These disturbances manifest as errors where you didn’t load any information into the computer, but somehow information appeared, like zeroes that flip into ones from particles flying through the device,” he said.

Scientist Aaron Chou leads the experiment that searches for dark matter using superconducting qubits and cavities. Credit: Reidar Hahn, Fermilab

So far, Chou and his team have demonstrated how the technique works and that the device is incredibly sensitive to these photons. Their method has advantages over other sensors, such as being able to make multiple measurements of the same photon to ensure a disturbance was not just caused by another fluke. The device also has an ultra-low noise level, which allows for a heightened sensitivity to dark matter signals.

Even the slightest disturbance can throw off a program in a quantum computer. With their extreme sensitivity, Aaron Chou realized quantum computers could provide a way to detect dark matter.

“We know how to make these tunable boxes from the high-energy physics community, and we worked together with the quantum computing people to understand and transfer the technology for these qubits to be used as sensors,” Chou said.

From here, they plan to develop a dark matter detection experiment and continue improving upon the design of the device.

Using sapphire cavities to catch dark matter

“This apparatus tests the sensor in the box, which holds photons with a single frequency,” Chou said. “The next step is to modify this box to turn it into kind of a radio receiver in which we can change the dimensions of the box.”

By altering the dimensions of the photon cavity, it will be able to sense different wavelengths of photons produced by dark matter.

These new sapphire photon cavities will help lead the team closer to running dark matter experiments that combine aspects from both physics and quantum science. Credit: Ankur Agrawal, University of Chicago

“The waves that can live in the box are determined by the overall size of the box. In order to change what frequencies and which wavelengths of dark matter we want to look for, we actually have to change the size of the box,” said Chou. “That’s the work we’re currently doing; we’ve created boxes in which we can change the lengths of different parts of it in order to be able to tune into dark matter at different frequencies.”

The researchers are also developing cavities made from different materials. The traditional aluminum photon cavities lose their superconductivity in the presence of the magnetic field necessary for producing photons from dark matter particles.

“These cavities cannot live in high magnetic fields,” he said. “High magnetic fields destroy the superconductivity, so we’ve made a new cavity made out of synthetic sapphire.”

Developing these new, tunable sapphire photon cavities will lead the team closer to running dark matter experiments that combine aspects from both physics and quantum science.

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  • A school kid in a three dimensional world pokes his pencil through a paper page upon which two dimensional people puzzle over the sudden injection of dark energy introducing dark matter into the known visible universe.

  • You're on the right track. The smaller and heavier the box the greater frequency of dark matter (I call frequency intensity bc it's no. of particles per area).
    But these are just effects and there are many naturally occuring matter and dark matter effects, e.g. weather, lightning, shape of galaxies, luminescence, etc.
    In fact dark matter creates matter; ready yourself for this: dark matter is gravity.
    To learn more contact the REAL me:
    jerry.mlinarevic777@gmail.com.
    Good luck.

  • How would you be able to tell dark matter producing photons instead of it being virtual particles created by fluctuations of qubits or vacuum?

  • I postulate that pulsing or vibrating lines of gravity force are what causes photons to appear as both particles and waves in double-slit experiments. So, why not the same in the photon cavities, whether one material, one size or one temperature or another? Spin a wheel and turn it on its axis by hand and feel the "dark matter," disguised as gyroscopic effect.

  • “Both quantum computers and dark matter detectors have to be heavily shielded, and the only thing that can jump through is dark matter,”

    What about neutrinos? Won't they (and possibly others) go thru this shielding? Sounds more like hope than solid science.

    A view of String Theory suggests that Dark Matter appears to us as an effect of string/anti-string annihilations. As you may know, quantum mechanics requires that strings must be formed as pairs in the quantum foam – a string and an anti-string – that immediately annihilate each other. Quantum mechanics also requires both the string and anti-string to be surrounded by “jitters” that reduce their monstrous vibrating energies. What if this jitter remains for a fraction of an instant after their string/anti-string annihilations? This temporary jitter would be seen by us as matter, via E=mc2, for that instant before it too returns to the foam. That’s why we never see it – the “mass” lasts only for that instant but is repeated over and over and over, all over. Specifics on this can be found by searching YouTube for “Dark Matter – A String Theory Way”

  • Difficult to detect? It's never been directly detected. It's been deduced, inferred, and surmised, but we still don't know if it exists or if our understanding of gravity is even more incomplete than we know it to be. This sounds like a funding detector to me.

  • Can you explain how photons are being generated? We're talking about regular photons right, not hypothetical dark photons? I thought Dark Matter didn't interact with the electromagnetic field. The source Fermilab's article didn't provide any insight

    • Your question is more complicated than it sounds. The classical process for the generation of light is spontaneous emission, considered to be ultimately responsible for most of the light we see around us. In this process, an electron is excited to a higher level by absorbing a higher energy photon. However, that level isn’t stable and the electron quickly reverts to its ground state (called its zero-point energy), releasing a photon in the process. Electrons are part of atoms, so the light emitted by the electron includes information about the source, such as the material that produced it. That information is contained in dark absorption lines within the photon called Fraunhofer lines.

      But where did the photon that hit the electron come from in the first place? Sure, another material may have produced it, but are there any "naked" photons without Fraunhofer lines? Yes, if you believe in String Theory. Go to YouTube and look up "Origin of Light - A String Theory Way" for one answer.

  • Actually I found some insight from the 2021 paper "Searching for Dark Matter with a Superconducting Qubit"

    "Detection mechanisms for low mass bosonic dark matter candidates, such the axion or hidden photon, leverage potential interactions with electromagnetic fields, whereby the dark matter (of unknown mass) on rare occasion converts into a single photon."

    • Cubic scam for $$ = profit! No matter the methods, or validation for that (dark) matter!

By
Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory

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