Published: Dec. 10, 2020 By

CU Boulder’s CUbit, ColdQuanta make Bose-Einstein lab available on the cloud

The legendary theoretical physicist Richard P. Feynman once famously declared, “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics.”

Dana Anderson, professor in the departments of physics and electrical, computer and energy engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder, begs to differ—sort of.

“That statement might suggest to people that they shouldn’t go learn what quantum is,” says Anderson, who is also co-founder and chief technology officer at ColdQuanta, a company dedicated to commercializing quantum atomics, and a fellow at JILA, a joint institute between CU Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. “If you understand what Feynman was actually saying, it’s that the state of lack of understanding is a very sophisticated state.”

Dana Anderson

Dana Anderson

And with the introduction in October of “Albert”—nickname for ColdQuanta’s quantum-matter system on the cloud, co-developed with CU Boulder’s CUbit Quantum Initiative—Anderson hopes students around the globe will make their way to that very sophisticated state, and perhaps beyond.

Albert allows users to remotely—and literally—cool atoms to near absolute zero to create a state of matter in which “quantum-mechanical behavior comes into play on a large scale.” Users can control, study and even photograph “the wavefunction of a quantum cloud of atoms,” allowing them to observe quantum phenomena.

That means students can now access and study quantum from wherever they are.

“We don’t have the quantum education we should have. And COVID-19 has now placed an additional barrier on studying quantum,” Anderson says. 

Albert offers students—including a 9-year-old who recently signed up—access to a “world-class, remotely accessible atomic, molecular, optical physics lab on the cloud,” in Anderson’s description.

“It’s available to high school and undergraduate students at institutions that would never have the funding necessary to make such an experiment available locally,” he says. “If you want to have quantum stop being a ‘geek thing,’ having a 9-year-old study and learn about it is a good way to go.”

CU Boulder has played a key role in bringing quantum technologies to the world and developing 21st-century technology, from smart phones to weather forecasting. 

In 1995, Professor of Physics Eric Cornell and Carl Wieman, now professor of physics and the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University, synthesized the first Bose-Einstein condensate, a state of matter in which bosons cooled to absolute zero occupy a quantum state. Albert Einstein first predicted something like the Bose-Einstein condensate between 1924 and 1925, developing the concept which was first proposed by Satyendra Nath Bose

“Bose-Einstein condensate is to atoms what laser is to light,” Anderson says. “In my mind, this was the beginning of a revolution as important to the world as the laser was.”

Cornell and Wieman received the Nobel Prize in Physics for their achievement, along with Wolfgang Ketterle, who was doing similar work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Anderson worked closely with Cornell and Wieman in the 1990s. In 2004, CU Boulder’s Quantum Applied Science and Engineering, of which Anderson is director, demonstrated “the first ultracold atom chip portable vacuum system.”

Enabling more people to get hands-on experience with quantum atomics through access to Albert will accelerate the learning curve of a new generation of quantum pioneers."

In 2007, Anderson co-founded ColdQuanta with Rainer Kunz, who served as CEO for nine years before retiring in 2015, with the goal of making quantum “more usable and practical” and eventually, to commercialize the technology. Over the next decade, the company developed and refined its trademarked Quantum Core technology, which cools atoms to near absolute zero and uses lasers to manipulate them with extreme precision.

In 2018, a Quantum Core was transported on an Antares rocket for use in the International Space Station’s Cold Atom Laboratory. In December 2018, the laboratory created Bose-Einstein condensate in orbit for the first time, which NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory called “the coolest experiment in the universe.”

CU Boulder soon created the Q-SEnSE institute—short for Quantum Systems through Entangled Science and Engineering—one of three Quantum Leap Challenge Institutes funded by the National Science Foundation. Q-SEnSE brings quantum researchers to Boulder from around the world to explore advanced quantum sensing, develop new quantum technologies and train a “quantum-savvy workforce.” 

ColdQuanta is very much in the business of selling its technology. Though the company is providing Albert to the world, free of charge, it’s intended to pay off in its own way. 

“Quantum technologies will provide an unprecedented level of performance, security, privacy, and computational speed to address the world’s most challenging technological problems,” says CEO Bo Ewald. “Enabling more people to get hands-on experience with quantum atomics through access to Albert will accelerate the learning curve of a new generation of quantum pioneers.”

Those interested may apply for access to Albert at the ColdQuanta website.