Now you can store information as sound waves

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Quantum computing, just like traditional computing, requires a method to store the information it uses and processes. In the computer you’re using right now, information—whether it be photos of your dog, a reminder about a friend’s birthday, or the words you’re typing into your browser’s address bar—must be stored somewhere. Quantum computing, a relatively new field, is still exploring where and how to store quantum information.

In a paper published recently in the journal Nature Physics, Mohammad Mirhosseini, assistant professor of electrical engineering and applied physics at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), shows a new method his lab developed for efficiently translating electrical quantum states into sound and vice versa. This type of translation may allow for storing quantum information prepared by future quantum computers, which are likely to be made from electrical circuits.

Mohammad Mirhosseini and his team have introduced an innovative method to store quantum information by translating electrical quantum states into sound. The new technique utilizes phonons and avoids the energy loss associated with previous methods. It enables longer storage durations and represents a significant advancement in the field of quantum computing. Credit: Maayan Illustration

This method makes use of what are known as phonons, the sound equivalent of a light particle called a photon. (Remember that in quantum mechanics, all waves are particles and vice versa). The experiment investigates phonons for storing quantum information because it’s relatively easy to build small devices that can store these mechanical waves.

To understand how a sound wave can store information, imagine an extremely echoey room. Now, let’s say you need to remember your grocery list for the afternoon, so you open the door to that room and shout, “Eggs, bacon, and milk!” and shut the door. An hour later, when it’s time to go to the grocery store, you open the door, poke your head inside, and hear your own voice still echoing, “Eggs, bacon, and milk!” You just used sound waves to store information.

Of course, in the real world, an echo like that wouldn’t last very long, and your voice might end up so distorted you can no longer make out your own words, not to mention that using an entire room for storing a little bit of data would be ridiculous. The research team’s solution is a tiny device consisting of flexible plates that are vibrated by sound waves at extremely high frequencies. When an electric charge is placed on those plates, they become able to interact with electrical signals carrying quantum information. This allows that information to be piped into the device for storage, and be piped out for later use—not unlike the door to the room you were shouting into earlier in this story.

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