James Gleick asks: as scientists crunch and quantize the world, will they ever reach the end?
By James GleickPosted 11.01.2011 at 3:40 pm 25 Comments
A countryman came into a telegraph office in Bangor, Maine, with a message, and asked that it be sent immediately. The operator took the message as usual, put his instrument in communication with its destination, ticked off the signals upon the key, and then, according to the rule of the office, hung the message paper on the hook with others that had been previously sent. ... The man lounged around some time, evidently unsatisfied. "At last," says the narrator of the incident, "his patience was exhausted, and he belched out, 'Ain't you going to send that dispatch?'" The operator politely informed him that he had sent it. "No, yer ain't," replied the indignant man; "there it is now on the hook."—Harper's New Monthly Magazine, 1873
We're still many years away from the first functioning quantum computer the size of a building, much less the first one the size of a desktop computer or a smartphone, but researchers at the National Institute of Standards andTechnology (NIST) are already moving toward smaller quantum computing devices. For the first time, physicists there have entangled two ions using microwaves rather than the usual array of laser beams, paving the way for miniaturized, easy-to-commercialize quantum computing technologies.
Is this the beginning of the quantum Internet? UK researchers have shown that quantum and classical data streams can be interwoven within traditional fiber optics networks, enabling the distribution of quantum information to the home on existing cable. That means quantum key distribution (QKD) can work alongside traditional, classical data channels, a development that essentially lays the groundwork for a quantum Internet that exists alongside the classical one we have now.
Like a long-distance romance, quantum entanglement is a fragile interaction; one moment, two particles can be sharing that special bond in which they are essentially one and the same, even when separated by vast distances. Then, just like that, the link can be broken. So the fact that Chinese researchers have set a new record by entangling eight photons at the same time--and then manipulating and observing them--is nothing short of amazing.
The very notion of quantum computing is a bit mind numbing, and the technology is so nascent that researchers aren’t even really sure of the best way to go about constructing a quantum computer. Nonetheless, D-Wave Systems Inc. has just sold one of its eponymous D-Wave One quantum computing systems to none other than Lockheed Martin, along with a multi-year contract to keep the thing working.
University of Pittsburgh researchers have assembled a key piece of tech that will help enable a future generation of extremely powerful quantum computers as well as advanced electronic materials and better computer memories. Their single-electron transistor is the first of its kind made entirely from oxide-based materials, an important aspect that allows it to work as a solid-state memory.
In a real-life use of Schrödinger's theoretical paradoxical cat, researchers report that they were able to quickly transfer a complex set of quantum information while preserving its integrity. The information, in the form of light, was manipulated in such a way that it existed in two states at the same time, and it was destroyed in one spot and recreated in another. The new teleportation breakthrough is a major step toward building safe, effective quantum computers.
If we’re ever going to create the next-gen quantum computers that promise to solve complex and difficult problems at super-fast speeds, first we’ll need to a means to manipulate atoms individually. So researchers from Duke and the University of Wisconsin have figured out how to do exactly that. Collaborators from those universities have demonstrated a laser system that can aim and focus tiny bursts of light onto single atoms without affecting other neighboring particles.
Ramped-up research efforts at IBM and other labs in the U.S. and Europe could lead to more powerful and more prevalent quantum computers in the near future.
IBM is breathing new life into a quantum computing research division at its Thomas J. Watson Research Center, reports New York Times. The computer giant has hired alumni from promising quantum computing programs at Yale and the University of California-Santa Barbara, both of which made quantum leaps in the past year using standard superconducting material.
Quantum computing represents the next great technological leap for computer processing, but building a computer that runs on individual atoms trapped in a lattice by beams of light isn’t exactly child’s play. But while an actual high-powered quantum computer may still be several years away, researchers at Harvard and Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics have captured the first images of atoms arranged in the necessary grid.