In physics professor Mark Siemens’ lab, undergraduate and graduate students explore the laser’s potential as a tool for quantum computing and mechanics. Using $10 lasers, the researchers study the dynamics of the vortices created when they shine the beams through and against various surfaces—Scotch tape, perhaps, or even a liquid crystal panel.
The way in which these vortices dance and interact offers researchers the chance to identify unexpected connections. “When we looked at the statistics of how those vortices moved, it’s exactly like what you see in quantum fluids like superfluid helium, and gives us direct access to exotic quantum physics,” Siemens says.
“One application that we’re pursuing with these vortices is quantum computing, which can be used to calculate solutions to a lot of important problems,” he adds. It may help develop new materials for, say, solar panels or next-generation medicines.
Siemens’ research is supported by a $1 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation and multiple grants from the National Science Foundation.