Quantum Computing Continues to Advance

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Quantum Computing Continues to Advance

The late theoretical physicist Richard Feynman once marveled, “Our imagination is stretched to the utmost, not, as in fiction, to imagine things which are not really there, but just to comprehend those things which are there.”1 It was Feynman who developed the concept of nanotechnology, and it was Feynman who first dreamed of the potential of quantum computing.

If there ever existed a technology that challenged the imagination, it is quantum computing. In traditional silicon computers, data is represented in binary bits that are always in one of two states: either a 1 or a 0. However, in a quantum computer each quantum bit, or “qubit,” can represent both a 1 and a 0 at the same time through a principle called superposition.

What this means is that a quantum computer can perform multitudes of calculations simultaneously. A two-qubit system can perform the operation on four values. A three-qubit system performs it on eight values. The performance of quantum computers explodes as the number of qubits increases.

This means that a quantum computer harnessing millions of qubits could, in a matter of minutes, process data and solve problems that would tie up today’s fastest supercomputers for a century.

While the potential is dazzling, the path from concept to reality has been difficult. The major challenges have included finding a cost-effective way to connect more than one qubit, and the need to control errors in a large-scale system.

But now, according to a study reported in the journal Nature, a team of scientists has made an important breakthrough:2 They’ve succeeded in building quantum logic gates in silicon for the first time, making calculations between two qubits of information possible.

A two-qubit logic gate is the central building block of a quantum computer. By using the same technology as existing computer chips, the team at Australia’s University of New South Wales (UNSW) has made it easier to manufacture a full-scale processor chip. The building of a quantum computer based on silicon should be much more feasible, since it is based on the same manufacturing technology as today’s computer industry.

As they explained in Nature, they reconfigured the “transistors” that are used to define the bits in existing silicon chips, and turned them into qubits.3 They morphed silicon transistors into quantum bits by ensuring that each has only one electron associated with it. They then stored the binary code of 0 or 1 on the “spin” of the electron, which is associated with the electron’s magnetic field.

However, it isn’t enough to develop qubits in silicon...

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