Simulating the birth of the Universe

A novel research project is leading the world of quantum simulation, in an attempt to reveal the very origins of the universe.

Closeup of the inside of 3D mini universes forming.

3D simulation of the decay of metastable vacuum from a local potential minimum


Dr Oleksandr Fialko and Professor Joachim Brand from Massey University’s New Zealand Institute of Advanced Study are working with a team from the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne to build a quantum simulator of the early Universe with ultra-cold atoms.

The idea, devised by Dr Fialko, will potentially give a much clearer idea of the different scenarios involved in the birth of the Universe for the first time.

Simulating false vacuum decay

“This work is unique,” he says. “The most popular scenarios of how the Universe might have appeared to be as it is today are known as the chaotic cosmic inflation and the false vacuum decay. There are already proposals in literature on how to simulate the chaotic cosmic inflation theory. We are aiming to simulate the false vacuum decay for the first time.”

The group is using a quantum simulator (analog quantum computer) and one controllable quantum system to investigate the behaviour and properties of another, which is less accessible.

“We use analog computers as they can tackle problems that are too demanding for digital computers,” says Dr Fialko. “Even the multi-billion-dollar Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is an analog quantum computer.”

Ultra-cold atoms (atoms cooled down very close to the absolute zero) were chosen for the research due to their promise as potential quantum simulators. Although in its infancy, other research has used ultra-cold atoms to simulate the complicated motion of electrons in solids and are being used in research simulating some subatomic processes.

International collaboration

This research is a truly collaborative affair, coming about after a visit by Dr Fialko to Swinburne University of Technology, talking to experts in other fields and sharing ideas with colleagues .

Although so far the work has been theoretical, planning is underway to design actual simulations. This requires redesign of some laboratory facilities at Swinburne and using novel atomic species.

“To explain the astronomical observation of the shrinking of the Universe, we must admit that it started from somewhere. We hope to simulate those initial scenarios to help distinguish between them, and pinpoint the very beginning of our Universe.” 


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