Antenna Made Of Just Excited Atoms Can Be Used To Stream Color TV And Video Games

A new tech demonstration shows atom antennae could be used in place of traditional electronics.


Dr. Alfredo Carpineti

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

clockAug 19 2022, 16:30 UTC
Artistic vortex with particles
The future is atom-based TV? Image Credit: agsandrew/

Scientists have successfully adapted an atom-based radio communication system to also receive color video signals and even stream a video game from a console. This is a huge step forward for these devices, whose small size and tolerance to noise make them potential substitutes for certain environments. Plus, it passed a golden standard for tech: it can run Doom.

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) created the antenna by using rubidium atoms in a Rydberg state. This is a state where the atoms are excited. Some of their electrons are excited, which means they are in orbitals that are much further away from the nucleus than usual. Some of the Rydberg atoms can be 1,000 times larger than the ground-state (read non-excited) version of the same atom.


This more peculiar electron distribution makes Rydberg atoms particularly sensitive to electromagnetic fields, and that includes radio signals. The atoms are kept in a glass container. An incoming signal shifts the energy in the Rydberg atoms, which can be read. Its output is fed to a TV, which can play the transmission. In this case, a video feed from a camera or a game from a console is transmitted by a horn antenna.

“We figured out how to stream and receive videos through the Rydberg atom sensors,” project leader Chris Holloway said in a statement. “Now we are doing video streaming and quantum gaming, streaming video games through the atoms. We basically encoded the video game onto a signal and detected it with the atoms. The output is fed directly into the TV.”

A key component for the success of the system is the size of the beam. The horn antenna directs the radio waves into a beam and the size of it had to be tweaked to get a good signal. A beam with a diameter of fewer than 100 microns, the average diameter of a strand of human hair, was found to be the most effective. A great bandwidth of around 100 megabits per second was good enough for streaming.  


“We have demonstrated the ability of the Rydberg atom receiver to receive live color video, using both a camera and a game console. The bandwidth was improved by optimizing the probe laser beam width, which tuned the average time the atoms remained in the interaction volume,” the team wrote in the conclusions of the paper, published in AVS Quantum Science.

The team is now investigating how to increase the system bandwidth and data rates.

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