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Thursday, 24 June 2010 11:07

Boffins move quantum computers closer to reality

Written by Nick Farell
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Not sure which reality

Boffins say they have had a breakthrough in making quantum computers move from an idea in their heads to a working machine. A UK-Dutch team from the University of Surrey, UCL (University College) London, Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, and the FOM Institute for Plasma Physics near Utrecht have managed to control an electron on silicon for the first time.

According to the research paper in Nature, the scientists have created a simple version of Schrodinger's cat which is capable of being both dead and alive at the same time, and only requires feeding exactly half the time.

Professor Ben Murdin, Photonics Group Leader at the University of Surrey said that this was a real breakthrough for modern electronics and has huge potential for the future. The breakthrough involves using lasers in a short, high intensity pulse to put an electron orbiting within silicon into two states at once - a so-called quantum superposition state.

They then controlled the proton so that the electrons emit a burst of light at a well-defined time after the superposition was created. This burst of light is called a photon echo; and its observation proved we have full control over the quantum state of the atoms.

Professor Murdin said his work shows that some of the quantum engineering already demonstrated by atomic physicists in very sophisticated instruments called cold atom traps, can be implemented in the type of silicon chip used in making the much more common transistor.

Professor Gabriel Aeppli, director of the London Centre for Nanotechnology added that the findings were highly significant to academia and business alike. "Next to iron and ice, silicon is the most important inorganic crystalline solid because of our tremendous ability to control electrical conduction via chemical and electrical means... Our work adds control of quantum superpositions to the silicon toolbox."

Nick Farell

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