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Reviews of Modern Physics


Department of Physics and Astronomy


The ability to generate particles from the quantum vacuum is one of the most profound consequences of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. Although the significance of vacuum fluctuations can be seen throughout physics, the experimental realization of vacuum amplification effects has until now been limited to a few cases. Superconducting circuit devices, driven by the goal to achieve a viable quantum computer, have been used in the experimental demonstration of the dynamical Casimir effect, and may soon be able to realize the elusive verification of analog Hawking radiation. This Colloquium article describes several mechanisms for generating photons from the quantum vacuum and emphasizes their connection to the well-known parametric amplifier from quantum optics. Discussed in detail is the possible realization of each mechanism, or its analog, in superconducting circuit systems. The ability to selectively engineer these circuit devices highlights the relationship between the various amplification mechanisms.