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Year of physics



The outgoing year could be called year of physics: the maximum number of significant achievements fell to this science’s lot. Mankind has become closer to creating of ultra-fast quantum computers, researchers observed the collision of two neutron stars, and ordinary lightning turned out to be a source of antimatter.


In the past year there was a breakthrough on the way toward the quantum computer: the team of scientists from Russia (Russian quantum center) and the United States created the first universal, fully programmable quantum processor from 51 qubits. In usual semiconductor computers each bit of information can take one of two values — 0 or 1. The qubit simultaneously contains both of these conditions and can simultaneously process them. Increase of qubits number to N increases the performance of such a system — as 2 to the power N. Created by the Russian-American group processor theoretically can simultaneously perform 2.2 quadrillion operations; this exceeds the normal capacity of modern supercomputers.

The previous record was 17 cubits and it was not sufficient to solve the tasks, which are not implemented on classic computers.

We are talking about a universal quantum processor that can perform any calculation: previously there were more high-qubit processors for individual operations.

Space is worrying — two

Gravitational waves, the discovery of which created a sensation in the fall of 2015, brought major scientific discoveries this year as well. Last summer, for the first time, astrophysicists were able to observe the collision of two neutron stars. Gravitational waves formed at the same time, were registered by the detector of the international scientific community LIGO. Scientists were able to determine the source of the waves and to calculate the size of neutron stars owing to observatories around the world, including a network of telescopes "Master" in the MSU, which contains devices installed across Russia. However, their properties and structure still remain a mystery.

Formidable antimatter

Scientists from the Science and Engineering Center of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency found that lightning produces antimatter. Scientists have studied gamma radiation, which is emitted during lightning discharge, and after processing the data unexpectedly found that antimatter is one of the radiation sources. Registered detectors were built on the coast of the island of Honshu. The means to create them were collected by volunteers with the help of a crowd funding campaign on the Internet.

Polymer changes skin

Interdisciplinary teams of physicians, biologists, chemists and physicists акщь the National research centre "Kurchatov Institute" are engages in the creation of analogues of human tissues and organs. Experts have created artificial skin for the treatment of people affected by burns. If the total area of burns is more than 30-40% of the body surface, there is the extremely high death risk of shock or dehydration. Scientists have developed a material that allows to avoid inflammation and moisture loss, contains painkillers, and can be easily removed from wounds because of its hydrophilicity. Now, researchers are working to create entire artificial bodies based on polymers.

Cancer will be as good as dead

Russian physicists and biologists from the Moscow State University, MEPhI, Institute of theoretical and experimental Biophysics of Russian Academy of Sciences have developed a technology that allows to explore and destroy cancer cells with ultrasound, without affecting healthy one. Nanoparticles can be entered in the body of the tumor, they will absorb the ultrasound, heat and kill cancer cells. This method of treatment is not devoid of problems: particles dissolve too quickly. Scientists have come up with an idea to cover the nanostructures of silicon with a layer of biopolymer — that made them more durable. As experiments at culture of human cancer cells shown, these nanoparticles accurately destroy important components of the diseased cells under the action of ultrasound, without causing the massive destruction of healthy one. It requires long medical research so that the new method would able to enter into medical practice.

From opaque side

Physics from MIPT and ITMO University with the participation of our foreign colleagues found that some of considered to be transparent materials can become completely opaque, if the brightness of falling on them light changes in a certain way. Theory and numerical simulation of such materials promise very good prospects — for example, they can become the basis for optical computer memory of the future.

Temporal crystal

This year the Nature journal published two articles from two independent groups of scientists, who have created a never-seen-before material. The group of Chris Monroe and the other under the leadership of Mikhail Lukin have proposed two different implementations of the so-called temporal crystal. This is a particle system which status changes with time. A temporal crystal, as a usual one, has the frequency but not in space but in time. Previously, many physics denied the possibility of the existence of such structures.

Nanoholes in graphene

There was excitement around graphene throughout the past year: as it turned out, it will suffice to change the structure of this two-dimensional crystal and you can obtained a completely new material with unexpected properties. An international team of researchers, including Russian scientists from MISIS, found another approach to graphene. Bombarding the crystal with ions, they punched the holes with a diameter from one to four nanometers. Changing the energy of ions it is possible to regulate the size of holes and material properties. Graphene with nanopores could be used in electronics as a semiconductor. Another possible use of a new material is water purification.

The key to optogenetics

Using x-ray crystallography, for the first time scientists from MIPT and foreign institutions have learned the exact structure of the channel rhodopsin ChR2. This is the best known photosensitive protein used in optogenetics. If you incorporate it into nerve cells by means of genetic engineering techniques, they can be controlled by light. Now it will be easier to manipulate the properties of the protein and, consequently, brain impulses.

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