Zlatko Minev overturned a mainstay of quantum physics that had troubled Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein alike. For most of the 20th century, it was assumed that atoms change from one energy level to another in abrupt, unpredictable, discrete quantum jumps. Minev proved otherwise.
“Quantum physics is not quite as unpredictable and discrete as we previously thought,” he says.
His experiment showed that when an atom is bombarded with energy in the form of light, it moves from one energy level to the next in a continuous, smooth way, not an instantaneous jump. What’s more, Minev was able to detect the change in an atom’s energy level quickly enough to control it so he could stop the jump midflight and reverse it before it was completed.
“In the short term,” he says, “with the monitoring that I developed for this project, we can actually have a window of predictability.”
Minev’s work could have major implications for quantum computing. Such systems are riddled with errors that occur when subatomic particles jump between energy levels, like the atoms in Minev’s experiment. The ability to detect and reverse such jumps before they finish should dramatically boost the power of quantum computers, allowing them to better crack encryption, model chemical reactions, and forecast weather.