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Power Science

Blueprint For a Quantum Electric Motor 97

TechReviewAl writes "Alexey Ponomarev from the University of Augsburg in Germany and colleagues have revealed the blueprints for an electric motor built with just two atoms. The motor would have one neutral atom and one charged atom trapped in a ring-shaped optical lattice. The atoms jump from one site in the lattice to the next as they travel around the ring and placing this ring in an alternating magnetic field creates the conditions necessary to keep the charged atom moving round the the ring. A team from the University of Glasgow in the UK in fact built one of these quantum motors back in 2007, which they called an optical ferris wheel for ultracold atoms. 'The next step, say Ponomarev and co, is to attach the motor to a nanoscopic resonator, such as a spring board or nanomushroom, and make it vibrate. If you can do that, they say, you'd be powering a classical object using a quantum motor.'"
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Blueprint For a Quantum Electric Motor

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  • by Absolut187 ( 816431 ) on Friday September 18, 2009 @05:26PM (#29471721) Homepage

    I'm assuming it would be wicked efficient?

  • Can you have zillions of these running in parallel with some kick azz nanotech gearbox to make something more efficient than a 'normal' electric motor to power an electric vehicle or something?
  • Add some tiny little batteries, and you can make a porno version of Tron.
    • My first reaction was a non-toxic version of the vibrator that could be attached to Panties. One could easily market this feminine product as a "Feel Good Film".
  • Optical Lattice? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PotatoFarmer ( 1250696 ) on Friday September 18, 2009 @05:31PM (#29471771)
    So what exactly is an optical lattice, and why is it not considered part of the motor itself? Other than the fact that "motor made out of only two atoms!" is clearly a better-sounding story, that is.
    • that was my question as well. the motor seems to consist of many atoms. one might fairly say "the piston" is only 2 atoms.
    • What I don't get is how hooking one up to this [] will be all that productive.

      What exactly is a nanomushroom other than a really really small mushroom.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      An Optical Lattice is a complicated array of lasers that create a egg carton like potential for the atoms (the atoms interact with the lasers via the Stark shift iirc). The idea is that the atoms then get "trapped" in the minima of this potential [well, they are still tunneling and all that].
      Via the wavelength of the lasers and their intensity one can control "depth" of the potential wells and the spacing of the lattice, which is quite nice, because you get essentially a solid state system where you can cha

    • by tenco ( 773732 )
      *sigh* Ok, I'll give you a hint: maybe there's a wikipedia article about what an optical lattice is.
  • Two atoms? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by clyde_cadiddlehopper ( 1052112 ) on Friday September 18, 2009 @05:33PM (#29471791)
    I suspect a few more atoms were used for the lasers that generate the optical containment and the device that applies the magnetic field and whatever was used to cool those two atoms to near zero Kelvins. Sounds a bit like a quantum physicists' retelling of stone soup [].
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by blueg3 ( 192743 )

      They didn't say the whole system was two atoms, they said the motor is two atoms. The motor is the component that turns a non-mechanical energy potential into mechanical motion. The cooling system, the device that produces the magnetic field, etc. are no more part of the motor than the gas tank and radiator are part of the internal combustion engine.

    • I suspect a few more atoms were used for the lasers that generate the optical containment and the device that applies the magnetic field and whatever was used to cool those two atoms to near zero Kelvins.

      Well okay, but on the other hand a 4 cylinder engine involves more parts than just those 4 cylinders -- some of those parts even being of a cylindrical nature! "4-cylinder" engine has more than 4 cylinders, wtf?! And while for a liquid-cooled engine the radiator is an essential component, you don't normal

    • My home town nearly went to zero Kevins back in 1978.

      It was a particularly cold winter, and we were already down to 3 Kevins (due to their low popularity at the time).

      Kevin Thomas had flown out to be with his son's family for a wedding and got stuck in Boston for a whole week due to the weather. 2 Kevins left.

      Kevin Lemmer was rushed to the hospital during my shift. I still remember the call from the EMTs as the ambulance was rushing toward us. "It's Lemmer. He's in bad shape. Drove right into the fucki

    • Keep in mind this is a simulation paper (i.e. pretty much a proof of concept). There isn't any device made yet, only in a oversimplified model within a simulation.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by net28573 ( 1516385 )
        "it turns out that a team from the University of Glasgow in the UK actually built one of these quantum motors back in 2007, which they called an optical ferris wheel for ultracold atoms." Yes there is a device according to the article! note the word "built".
    • by Laxitive ( 10360 )

      I suspect an oil rig, a refinery, a transport truck, and a highway system to deliver the oil, and an oil distribution infrastructure were all part of your car motor too. Because without those it's just a hunk of twisted metal.


  • Pardon me the ignorance here, but what is 'cold atom'?

    • by Tanman ( 90298 )



      i should note -- ianap(hysicist)

  • by Itninja ( 937614 ) on Friday September 18, 2009 @05:39PM (#29471839) Homepage
    I hope this one day scales up to car size. The cops would be able to tell I was speeding on the freeway, but have no idea where I was. Or they would know exactly where I was, but have no idea if I was speeding. HUP FTW!

    I'll show myself out....
    • by Red Flayer ( 890720 ) on Friday September 18, 2009 @06:02PM (#29472009) Journal
      That's all well and good, Mr. Quantum Speeding Ticket Avoider Man, but remeber that the same principle applies to your car keys.

      And what happens when you get into an accident? You'll be both dead and alive until someone opens the car door! (Is this how the zombie apocalypse starts?)
      • You'll be both dead and alive until someone opens the car door!

        Isn't that true now? ("Schrödinger's car"?)

      • by tenco ( 773732 )

        And what happens when you get into an accident? You'll be both dead and alive until someone opens the car door! (Is this how the zombie apocalypse starts?)

        Due to my expertise regarding zombies *cough*from movies*cough* I doubt this. Because i never saw a zombie crumble to dust if someone looked at them.

  • Some day, when technology has advanced to the point of optimizing machines to use every last atom to maximum efficiency, tricks like this will be neat.

    Thing is, our post-singularity successors won't be amused by this "two atom" claim - you have to use up lots of atoms to hold everything in place and create the conditions necessary. If the "lattice" weren't there, the atoms wouldn't act like a motor. The fields from the lattice atoms are what create the necessary conditions.

    • by blueg3 ( 192743 )

      It's not "how atom-efficient can you make the system" -- after all, individual atoms are inconceivably cheap -- it's "how minimal of a motor can you create". (Although if it's using a quantum-mechanical effect, the fewer the atoms involved, the easier.)

      • Atoms? Cheap? There is a hidden cost, my friend!

        Benefits? Perqs? A green cookie on Saint Patrick's Day?
        -- Monty Burns reads the proposed union contract, ``Last Exit to Springfield''

        Burns flashes back to simpler days. Springfield, 1909, back when
        people smashed atoms by hand. Grandfather Burns catches one of his
        employees trying to steal some atoms and has him taken away.

        You can't treat the working man this way. On

      • There are a finite number of atoms in our solar system. Getting much more mass than what is already here will be incredibly difficult (unless wormholes are possible). So some day technology will be advanced to where every atom needs to be in the right place doing the right thing.
  • Developments like this are why I think emphasis on conservation at the expense of research into cheap and clean power generation is misguided. I hear a lot of talk from environmentalists about getting people out of their cars. The real effect of those policies will be to get poor people out of their cars while rich people will continue to enjoy the material advantages that personal transportation offers.

    I'd rather research cheap and clean power sources and keep poor people in their cars. That's social
    • by smoker2 ( 750216 )
      Very big of you, but why do you think cars are a good place to be ? Your last sentence can be read from the other aspect too. Let's keep the poor people in their cars while the rich get better transport arrangements.

      I have a hate thing with cars at the moment. It seems they are more addictive than heroin, and kill more people. Yet if you try talking to a car owner you rarely get any sense if it means restricting their rights to drive. I've heard arguments from people suggesting that the best thing for the c

      • smoker2,

        Can't is just be a matter of individual choice?

        You don't like cars, so you structure your life to avoid them.

        I like cars so I am free to decide to make them a part of my life.

        Each of us is free and not coerced in this decision. Is there anything wrong with that?
    • I'd rather research cheap and clean power sources and keep poor people in their cars.

      What's wrong with low income housing? Are you seriously suggesting that poor people shouldn't have access to running water, decent sized beds or even a toilet?!?


  • I'd love to try some quantum nanomushrooms. Would they simultaneously do nothing and cause me to trip my face off?
  • Here is a link to the paper that discusses this. It's an interesting read for anyone who cares about physics and theoretical motors. Article here []
    Happy physics reading. PS: The links are in the top right.
  • How long before some lab hack claims to have made a nano scale "free energy" machine.....

    Of course if you could find some way to make nano machine that could turn latent heat energy into electricity you could theoretically make a device that could make cold air and electricity out of warm air......

    Build a couple hundred million of these and we could keep the arctic region cold as ice and supply the tropics with plentiful electrical energy....

    Assuming you could tweak the laws of thermodynamics to work this w

  • wow (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Soon we will be ablr to have Quantum Hard drives

  • What are those lattices made of? What is the magnetic field generator made of?

    I can make a motor of zero atoms too. I just have to wrap it in a traditional electric motor. :P

  • As I said before on similar occasions, those are only calculations on the feasibility of making the atomic motor. As much as these calculations can be difficult, the actual experimental realization is even more complicated. Think for example in the challenges in making the ring shaped optical lattice with atomic precision, while maintaining the atoms cold enough (usually with laser pumps). Only at that point I will be really impressed, and actually start thinking on how to integrate it with more complex mo
  • Let me give you an analogy: consider a container in the shape of half-a-donut, filled with salty water. Let's put a nonconductive barrier in at one point and place two electrodes on either side. Apply a voltage to the electrodes and ions will start moving through the water, sodium to the negative, chlorine to the positive. Although the ions are moving, we don't call this contraption a "motor". You could try to hook something up to the moving ions (good luck!) and try to move it, and if you succeed in this t

  • I don't mean to be flippant but I can't think of any practical application for this motor that isn't somewhat confounded by the requirement for the lasers and the magnetic field generator... TFA seems fairly proud that they've come up with this thing but doesn't really tell us what good it does.

    I mean, does it have some massively superb output per unit size? Is the amount of motive energy it creates so great that it massively outweighs the amount of energy put *in* to the system by running the lasers and th

  • Okay, call me crazy, but can't EVERY atom-level structure with atoms circling other atoms a "motor"? I'm calling "Patent Troll" !!

  • We heard like you liked paradoxes so we put quantum superposition in your classical scale universe so you can not spin while you spin.

You will never amount to much. -- Munich Schoolmaster, to Albert Einstein, age 10