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Stanford University researchers have developed a key experimental device for future quantum physics-based technologies that borrows a page from current, everyday mechanical devices.

Reliable, compact, durable, and efficient, acoustic devices harness mechanical motion to perform useful tasks. A prime example of such a device is the mechanical oscillator. When displaced by a force—like sound, for instance—components of the device begin moving back-and-forth about their original position. Creating this periodic motion is a handy way to keep time, filter signals, and sense motion in ubiquitous electronics, including phones, computers, and watches.

Researchers have sought to bring the benefits of mechanical systems down into the extremely small scales of the mysterious quantum realm, where atoms delicately interact and behave in counterintuitive ways. Toward this end, Stanford researchers led by Amir Safavi-Naeini have demonstrated new capabilities by coupling tiny nanomechanical oscillators with a type of circuit that can store and process energy in the form of a qubit, or quantum "bit" of information. Using the device's qubit, the researchers can manipulate the quantum state of mechanical oscillators, generating the kinds of quantum mechanical effects that could someday empower advanced computing and ultraprecise sensing systems.

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