How quantum computers could detect dark matter
Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory are using quantum computers to search for dark matter. Dark matter constitutes about 27% of the universe’s matter and energy, but it is difficult to detect because it does not interact with light. The scientists have discovered a way to look for dark matter using quantum computers, which could provide new insights into this mysterious substance.
Aaron Chou, a senior scientist at Fermilab, is using quantum science to try and detect dark matter. He has developed a method that uses qubits, the fundamental building blocks of quantum computing systems, to detect single photons produced by dark matter in the presence of a strong magnetic field. This method is part of the DOE’s Office of High Energy Physics QuantISED program.
How quantum computers could detect dark matter
Classical computers process information using binary bits that are either 1 or 0, but a quantum computer uses qubits that can exist in both states at the same time due to a quantum mechanical property called superposition. This allows quantum computers to perform complex calculations much more efficiently than classical computers. However, working with such small packets of information as qubits makes them susceptible to external disturbances, according to Aaron Chou, a senior scientist at Fermilab.
In order to function properly, qubits must be kept in carefully controlled environments that protect them from outside interference and maintain low temperatures. This extreme sensitivity led Aaron Chou, a senior scientist at Fermilab, to realize that quantum computers could be used to detect dark matter. Dark matter detectors also need to be shielded in a similar way to protect them from interference, and Chou realized that quantum computers could be repurposed for this purpose. “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 pass through a strong magnetic field, they may produce photons that can be measured by Chou and his team using superconducting qubits inside aluminum photon cavities. Since the qubits have been shielded from all other outside disturbances, when a disturbance from a photon is detected, it can be inferred that it was caused by dark matter passing 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,” Chou explained.
Chou and his team have demonstrated that their technique works and that the device is highly sensitive to photons. Their method has several advantages over other sensors, such as the ability to make multiple measurements of the same photon to confirm that a disturbance was not just a fluke. The device also has a very low noise level, which allows it to be highly sensitive to signals from 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. The team plans to continue developing the device and use it to conduct experiments to detect dark matter.
Using sapphire cavities to catch dark matter
Chou and his team are working on modifying the device to make it more versatile and able to detect different wavelengths of photons produced by 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 changing the dimensions of the photon cavity, the device can be made to sense different wavelengths of photons. “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,” Chou explained. “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.”
In addition to changing the dimensions of the photon cavity, the researchers are also working on developing cavities made from different materials. Traditional aluminum photon cavities lose their superconductivity in the presence of the strong magnetic fields that are necessary for producing photons from dark matter particles. “These cavities cannot live in high magnetic fields,” Chou said. “High magnetic fields destroy the superconductivity, so we’ve made a new cavity made out of synthetic sapphire.” Developing these tunable sapphire photon cavities will enable the team to conduct dark matter experiments that combine elements from both physics and quantum science.
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