Dance like a neutrino: Quantum scheme to simulate neutrino oscillations

March 21, 2012

The behaviour of some of the most elusive particles in the known universe can be simulated using three atoms in a lab, researchers at the Centre for Quantum Technologies (CQT) at the National University of Singapore have found.

Principal Investigator Dimitris G. Angelakis and his group members Changsuk Noh and Blas Rodriguez-Lara have devised a scheme that uses the quantum states of three charged ions to simulate the 'oscillations' of neutrinos. The proposal is published in the March issue of New Journal of Physics.

Neutrinos are pesky things to study: they barely interact with matter and have a very tiny mass. Experiments to study them typically use vast detectors to capture neutrinos produced in the Sun or in particle accelerators. Physicists would like more precise measurements than such experiments have so far yielded since neutrino behaviour could provide a first glimpse of physics beyond the current Standard Model.

The new technique simulates the phenomenon known as neutrino oscillation: neutrinos flipping between their three types - electron, muon and tau - as they propagate. (No, the simulation won't help determine whether neutrinos travel faster than light, unfortunately.)

In the scheme, the three neutrino types are encoded in the quantum states of three ions, each having two energy levels. The ions are contained in an optical trap. Additional lasers set the ions vibrating - the vibrations contribute to making the trapped ions behave mathematically like fast-flying particles - and manipulate the ions' energy states. The team hope to collaborate with experimentalists to realise the quantum simulation.

Neutrino oscillations in standard theory are easily calculated; however, the CQT researchers say the simulator could prove useful in exploring more exotic models of neutrino behaviour. The new scheme could also inspire simulations of other types of particles that come in three families such as quarks, the particles that form protons and neutrons, says Noh, the paper's first author.
Noh and co-author Rodriguez-Lara are Research Fellows at CQT. Co-author Angelakis, a CQT Principal Investigator, is also a lecturer at the Science Department, Technical University of Crete, Greece.

For further details, see "Quantum simulation of neutrino oscillations with trapped ions", New J. Phys. 14, 033028 (2012).

A preprint is available at arXiv:1108.0182.

Researcher contact:

Dimitris G. Angelakis
Centre for Quantum Technologies, National University of Singapore
Science Department, Technical University of Crete, Greece
+65 6601 1468

About National University of Singapore

A leading global university centred in Asia, the National University of Singapore (NUS) is Singapore's flagship university which offers a global approach to education and research, with a focus on Asian perspectives and expertise. NUS has 16 faculties and schools across three campuses. Its transformative education includes a broad-based curriculum underscored by multi-disciplinary courses and cross-faculty enrichment. Over 36,000 students from 100 countries enrich the community with their diverse social and cultural perspectives. NUS has three Research Centres of Excellence (RCE) and 21 university-level research institutes and centres. It is also a partner in Singapore's 5th RCE. NUS shares a close affiliation with 16 national-level research institutes and centres. Research activities are strategic and robust, and NUS is well-known for its research strengths in engineering, life sciences and biomedicine, social sciences and natural sciences. It also strives to create a supportive and innovative environment to promote creative enterprise within its community. For more information, please visit

About Centre for Quantum Technologies at the National University of Singapore

The Centre for Quantum Technologies (CQT) was established as Singapore's inaugural Research Centre of Excellence in December 2007. It brings together quantum physicists and computer scientists to explore the quantum nature of reality and quantum possibilities in information processing. CQT is funded by Singapore's National Research Foundation and Ministry of Education and is hosted by the National University of Singapore (NUS). More at

Centre for Quantum Technologies at the National University of Singapore

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