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Physicists call for an international effort to take quantum experiments to space

The scientific legacy of the 20th century is twofold: On the one hand there is quantum mechanics, which has helped us to explain the fundamental principles of the microscopic world. On the other hand is the space program, which made space exploration a reality. The 21st century could see these areas of scientific and technological development joined together to deliver unforeseen possibilities.

Current quantum experiments are mostly performed on laboratory tables. Meeting the right experimental conditions (low pressure and temperature, or isolation from external noise) all the way down to be able to test the very fundamental principles underpinning nature – the holy grail of every quantum physicist – is very demanding. But space could offer the way forward! On-board of a satellite, free-fall, high vacuum, and no ground-related vibrations would make any quantum experiment more “robust”, allowing for the test of those tiny, elusive effects that are so difficult to unveil on the ground. In turn, this will help the delivery of new, disruptive quantum-enhanced technologies for communication and sensing.

Very exciting, yet difficult and costly. So much so that a genuine world-scale program for quantum experiments in space would be needed. In a Comment article in the pages of Nature, Dr. Alessio Belenchia, postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of Tübingen, together with collaborations from Belfast, Southampton, Trieste and Barcelona, draws the pathway towards the achievement of such a goal, identifying the challenges ahead and calling for an international effort that puts together scientists, quantum industry, and policy-makers alike towards the exploration of a new space frontier. This time, a quantum one!

Further information on the original publication: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-02091-8

Institute for Theoretical Physics