Making music with quantum physics: atomic sensing and recording

An image to illustrate making music with quantum physics through atomic sensing

A team at the National Institute for Standards and Technology, Boulder, Colorado has combined music and quantum physics by using atomic sensing to record a song.

The fun example of using atomic sensing to record music is designed to illustrate how the atoms could be used for communications devices. According to the American Institute of Physics, “It sounds like an old-school vinyl record, but the distinctive crackle in the music streamed into Chris Holloway’s laboratory is atomic in origin. The group at the National Institute for Standards and Technology, Boulder, Colorado, spent a long six years finding a way to directly measure electric fields using atoms.”
© J. Burrus at NIST This is C.L. Holloway in his atomic-recording studio. The stereo recording of Queen’s ‘Under Pressure’ with an atom-based receiver shows the simultaneous detection of the vocal and instrumental part of a song by two atomic species. This illustrates that the atom receiver can receive multi-path communication signals simultaneously.










They used the quantum system to pick up stereo from Queen’s Under Pressure, with one atomic species recording the instrumentals and another the vocals at two laser frequencies.

Holloway explained: “One of the reasons for cutting stereo was to show that this one receiver can pick up two channels simultaneously, which is difficult with conventional receivers.”

Holloway added: “Atom-based antennas might give us a better way of picking up audio data in the presence of noise, potentially even the very weak signals transmitted in deep space communications.”

The future of the research

Holloway concludes: “My vision is to cut a CD in the lab – our studio – at some point and have the first CD recorded with Rydberg atoms.”

Although Holloway does not expect atomic recording to replace digital music recordings due to the lower sound quality, this example of atomic sensing could be used in communication devices in the future. They are trying to discover how weak a signal the Rydberg atoms can detect and what data transfer speeds can be achieved.

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