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Quantum Computing

Scientists have fantasized for decades about the creation of a quantum computer that could operate eons ahead of modern ciphering capacities and store massive amounts of data. These theoretical computers could perform complex calculations and solve problems with greater efficiency than even the most advanced supercomputer.

A classic PC is made up of memory bits, where each bit has a value of one or zero and operates using binary codes. In comparison, a quantum computer is made up of qubits, which can represent one, zero, or both at the same time. These powerful computers use atoms and molecules for memory and task processing, meaning they have the ability to exist in multiple states which allows for exceedingly fast calculations and superior data storage.

The underlying obstacle barring the practical construction of a quantum computer lies with science’s inability to observe these fragile quantums in their natural states. Once a quantum interacts with the outside world it begins to decohere, and all of its properties are lost. Recently however, a duo of French and American researchers have discovered a method of indirectly observing these quantums using lasers. Their exposition won them the Nobel Prize, and has been hailed as a tremendous scientific achievement.

The field of quantum computing was first introduced in 1982 by theoretical physicist Richard Feynman, who declared that these powerful machines would one day replace the modern computer. And according to Moore’s Law, which dictates that the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years, we will have realistic quantum computers by the year 2020 to 2030.

However, if Nobel Prize laureates Serge Haroche and David Wineland have their way, science may be closer than ever to constructing a fully-functional quantum PC. The two scientist’s discovery has been described as a “parlor trick” in the world of quantum mechanics. Wineland explains that by firing a laser at an atom in the lab, he was able to observe the atom at two varying locations, 80 billionths of a metre apart. This sort of observation was long decried as impossible through current quantum mechanical knowledge, but Wineland describes himself as an experimentalist, and wasn’t deterred by the scoffing.

Jim Al-Khalili, a professor of physics at the University of Surrey in Britain, recognized the duo’s achievement. “Until the last decade or two, some of these results were nothing more than ideas in science fiction or, at best, the wilder imaginations of quantum physicists. Wineland and Haroche and their teams have shown just how strange the quantum world really is and opened up the potential for new technologies undreamt of not so long ago.”

Sources:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/10/10/us-nobel-physics-idUSBRE8980DZ20121010

http://computer.howstuffworks.com/quantum-computer.htm

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