A quantum device designed by a group of UCSB physicists has recently been named the 2010 Breakthrough of the Year by the journal Science.

The team, led by physics professors John Martinis and Andrew Cleland, designed the first mechanical device that was able to exhibit quantum effects. The device is considered to be a major milestone in the study of quantum mechanics.

Andrew Cleland, Aaron O'Connell and John Martinis, respectively.

“When the history books are written and people look back to see when [scientists] bridged the gap in the world of large mechanical devices and the strange quantum world, this will be the discovery that did it,” Robert Coontz, the deputy news editor of the physical and earth science divisions of Science, said.

The device is believed to have practical applications in the research of the use of quantum mechanics, such as control over light, electrical currents and motion. Coontz said the discovery is a “genuine milestone,” which is one of the criteria for the journal’s Breakthrough of the Year.

“Every year, we keep a list of scientific discoveries that seem significant, and at the end of the year we choose one to be our breakthrough,” Coontz said. “We tend to look for discoveries that would be of interest outside of the field … and have a lot of practical applications.”

Omer Blaes, a professor of physics at UCSB, said he believes there is no question that the recent award will highlight achievements by the physics department.

“Science magazine is one of the top journals across all the sciences in the world,” Blaes said. “The editors decided that this [device] is the most important in all science, so it is a very big deal, both for recognition of the department and UCSB as a whole. It is fantastic news for all of us and good publicity for the quality of research.”

Blaes said Martinis and Cleland’s device is “very weird,” but also extremely useful and important in the field.

“Things can be in a superposition of different states that are not allowed in ordinary reality, but that’s the way the universe works,” Blaes said. “[Marinis and Cleland] managed to get an object in a superposition, which is important for the nature of the world. [These findings can] extend to macroscopic world and technology for quantum computing … both technological and fundamental or philosophical results are major.”

The Daily Nexus’ original coverage of the finding can be found at http://www.dailynexus.com/2010-03-30/scientists-succeed-at-large-scale-superposition/.