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Ari Dyckovsky at his home in Leesburg, Virginia, 30 miles west of Washington, D.C.

ri Dyckovsky was 15 when some Bose-Einstein condensate hit him right between the eyes. It didn’t really hit him between the eyes. That’s just a metaphor. But metaphors are thoroughly appropriate when you’re discussing a trip from the suburbs of Washington, D.C., into that alternate universe known as quantum mechanics. When he was 15, Dyckovsky sat down to watch a PBS documentary that culminated with a group of physicists creating a new form of matter called the Bose-Einstein condensate, or BEC. First predicted in the 1920s by Albert Einstein and an Indian scientist named Satyendra Bose, BEC isn’t a solid or a liquid or a gas. It’s not even a plasma. Existing only at extremely low temperatures, where it exhibits the seemingly magical properties of quantum mechanics, BEC is something different — a group of atoms that act like a single super atom, particles that behave like waves.


Sitting in his home in Leesburg, Virginia, about 30 miles west of D.C., Dyckovsky was intrigued by the counterintuitive nature of the quantum world. But he was also struck by the idea of spending a lifetime building something the world had never seen. That Bose-Einstein condensate hit him so hard, he decided that quantum physics was the life for him too. No doubt, there are countless other teenagers who decide much the same thing. But Ari Dyckovsky took the express route. Dyckovsky is now 18, and his paper on another mindbending aspect of the quantum world — quantum entanglement — was just published by Physical Review A, one of the world’s leading physics journals. Co-authored with Steven Olmschenk — a researcher with the Joint Quantum Institute, a collaboration of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Maryland at College Park — the[6/4/2012 9:24:36 AM]




Teen Solves Quantum Entanglement Problem for Fun | Wired Enterprise |

paper breaks new ground in the ongoing effort to build a quantum computer, so often called the holy grail of technology research. “Yes, he’s very young, but he’s the first author on that publication and rightfully so,” Olmschenk says. “All of the brute force calculations and things like that — Ari did most of it, if not all of it.” The paper — a theoretical analysis of how two distant and very different particles can be entangled with light — is about 90 percent brute force calculation.


The publication is no surprise to Ari’s mother, Amy Dyckovsky. She traces his quantum ambitions all the way back to a cross-country car ride the family took when he was little more than 3 years old, moving from California to Virginia. At an age when most children are still learning to put words together, Ari sat in back seat solving math problems tossed out by his father, a market researcher and high-tech exec with a degree in economics and a Yale MBA. In the beginning, the games were simple — addition and subtraction — but they quickly progressed into multiple-digit multiplication and the square roots of very large numbers. They continued through elementary school, Ari says, and they soon morphed into something akin to physics. “I would get bored at school, but when I got home, he would make me these math worksheets … algebraic word problems,” he says. “After a while, they became less about math and more about how would you use math to describe something, to show what’s going on. That’s what physics is.” But there’s not a direct line to that PBS documentary. Ari’s rather accelerated education slowed when he was 9. His father died after an unexpected heart attack, at the age of 47, and as Ari tells it, his interest in education of any kind almost dried up completely. “He took a serious downward spiral,” his mother says. “We all did.” This continued for years. “I lost hope in many ways, especially when it came to my education. I immediately adopted the notion that my education was no longer important without my father,” Ari says. “For two weeks, I refused to leave the house, and I was finally forced to attend school. I was not happy about it. It really was a major setback.” Ari credits his grandfather — his mother’s father — with reviving what had been a natural curiosity. “School was very easy for me, even after I lost interest,” Dyckovsky says. “But my grandfather kept telling me to look at it in a different way. He told me that an A meant nothing. I was dumbfounded. But he told me that wasn’t the best you could get — not even close. It took me a while. But eventually, I figured it out.” As a young teenager, after a nudge from his mother, he was accepted at the Loudoun County Academy of Science in Sterling, Virginia, a selective, part-time high school for promising science and math students. But in some ways, he outgrew this as well. After that BEC hit him between the eyes, he taught himself the basic tenets of quantum mechanics, and when he reached his limits there, he emailed about 70 university professors and researchers, asking if they would help take him further. Only one responded: Steven Olmschenk at NIST. Originally, Olmchenk was little more than a teacher. But eventually, their relationship morphed into a collaboration, and it was only natural that their research would settle on quantum entanglement, the subject of Olmchenk’s Ph.D. thesis.[6/4/2012 9:24:36 AM]

Recently published in the academic journal Physical Review A, Ari Dyckovsky’s paper on quantum entanglement is titled “Analysis of Photon-Mediated Entanglement Between Distinguishable Matter Qubits.”. But for those who have shorter attention spans but retain a thirst for quantum mechanics, Dyckovsky has also put together a poster presentation.

Teen Solves Quantum Entanglement Problem for Fun | Wired Enterprise |

Dyckovsky’s beside table — the spoils of teenage quantum research.


irst explored in the mid-1930s by Einstein and others, quantum entanglement is a way of linking together two particles that are physically isolated. In our world — the world of classical physics — this is counter-intuitive. But in the quantum world, it’s a very real phenomenon. In essence, if the quantum properties of one particle are altered, a change happens in the other particle. “Separate observations of the two quantum objects are random, but when observed together, their states are correlated. Basically, measuring the state or information in one of the objects will necessarily determine what state is measured in the other object,” Dyckovksy says. He uses two coins as a metaphor. If you and a friend each flip a quarter, he explains, the result of each flip is completely random. But with quantum entanglement, it’s as if the result of one flip is always the same as the other — not matter how far apart you and your friend are standing. In the mid90s, an IBM researcher named Charles Bennett showed that this sort of entanglement could be used to send information between two quantum objects — such as atoms or quantum dots (artificial atoms). He called it quantum teleportation — “It’s a metaphor,” Bennett says. “It has nothing to do with what you see in Star Trek, but it makes you think of that” — and it’s a key part of the race to build a quantum computer, a machine that could use these same very small particles to achieve speeds well beyond today’s classical computer.


Wolfgang Ketterle, German who led one of the first groups to create Bose-Einstein condensation in 1995


Joseph Fourier, early 19th century Frenchman who fathered the “greenhouse effect” and the Fourier series Pieter Zeeman, Dutch physicist who won 1902 Nobel Prize for work on magnetism and light radiation

3[6/4/2012 9:24:36 AM]


Paul Dirac, 1933 Nobel Prize winner who discovered new forms of atomic theory


James Maxwell, 19th century Scot

Teen Solves Quantum Entanglement Problem for Fun | Wired Enterprise |

whose equations laid the foundation for classical electrodynamics

Dyckovksy (center) with friends at a Leesburg coffee house.


Lev Landau, Soviet who discovered the theory of superfluidity and won the Nobel Prize in 1962


Douglas Osheroff, modern American who discovered superfluidity in the Helium-3 isotope

Quantum teleportation would let you move information from one part of a quantum computer to another. The trouble, says Bennett, is that it faces “tremendous barriers” if it can ever be used outside the lab. With his paper, Ari Dyckovsky has helped show that you can have quantum entanglement with vastly different particles, not just particles that are similar. “Nearly all the past and even most current research has looked at the remote or long-distance entanglement of indistinguishable quantum memories — such as two identical atoms or ions,” Dyckovsky says. “We extend the current knowledge to not only include entanglement between identical sources, but entanglement with two sources that are very different.” This is so useful because different particles are suited to different parts of a quantum machine. Some are suited to the equivalent of memory, others the equivalent of a processor. “It’s very important to transfer qubits — quantum data — from one physical form to another, like from the state of a photon to the state of an ion to the state of a nuclear spin to the state of a quantum dot,” Bennett says. “There are dozens of systems that have been proposed for the storage of quantum information. The more expertise we get in moving information from one of these forms to another, the closer we’ll be to building a working quantum computer.” As Dyckovsky points out, since quantum entanglement can be achieved over long distances, his research could also be used to build a new form of secure communication. “You could use this entanglement scheme to link an ion and a quantum dot, which can be used to perform a teleportation protocol that allows quantum information to be transferred,” he says. “A government agency could use this for message transfer and no eavesdroppers could intercept the message because none of the sensitive info actually traverses the distance.” Dyckovsky’s paper is just one step along the road to quantum teleportation and, ultimately, the quantum computer. But it’s a step. His research has not only earned him a place in Physics Review A, it has won him a $50,000 college scholarship from the Intel Foundation and a spot in this fall’s freshman class at Stanford University. But those are merely the measurements in the classical world. He’s gone much further in the quantum world.

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