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Physicists make a discovery in a vacuum

Annalise Klingbeil, Canwest News Service

Published: Thursday, March 06, 2008

CALGARY -- Quantum physics researchers at the University of Calgary have unlocked the secret to capturing nothing.

A research team has proven it's possible to store a special form of vacuum -- vacuums are spaces entirely devoid of matter -- in a puff of gas, then retrieve it a split second later.

The discovery by University of Calgary physics professor Alexander Lvovsky and four graduate students could help the development of quantum computers, enhance the understanding of the basic structure of the universe and even lead to new ways of making unbreakable codes to transmit sensitive information.

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"This has a large [number] of applications, in particular with precision measurements and quantum information science, which is a booming field," said Lvovsky, who has studied at universities around the world.

Lvovsky started the project about four years ago while working in Germany. The discovery will appear in an online edition of the world's leading physics journal, Physical Review Letters, on Friday.

Dmitry Korystov, one of the graduate students who worked on the project, said other researchers around the world have tried similar projects and given up, because working with the lights and electronics needed is incredibly difficult.

"It's a big technical challenge," he said.

While the discovery may not have a lot of everyday applications, fellow researcher Mirko Lobino admits, it's a first step that could profoundly affect quantum-information science in future. "It's a pretty amazing achievement," said Lobino. "I'm very proud."


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