Last month, a team of Russian and American scientists unveiled a quantum computer array with 51 qubits at the International Conference on Quantum Technologies in Moscow. Here’s a look at how they accomplished this new milestone with the use of cold atoms and lasers.
If you’re already familiar with quantum computing, I recommend skipping to the next section. If you’re not familiar with quantum computing, it is aptly named for its quantum properties. In quantum physics, particles do not have a defined location until they are observed. In classical computing, digital data is read in bits, which are 1s and 0s, or ON and OFF states, which we know as binary, which can be manipulated into different arrangements using various logic gates.
Quantum computing combines concepts from classical computing and quantum mechanics to make qubits (a shortened nickname for “quantum bits”). Unlike classical bits, qubits can be a 1 or 0 at the same time, much like Schrodinger’s cat, which is in a state of flux until observed. So,four bits have 16 possible combinations (24), whereas four qubits can be in every possible combination at the same time until they are observed. This allows a quantum computer to perform every possible calculation at the same time. A quantum algorithm reduces the time required for large calculations by the square root of the number of entries being searched.
Quantum computers are not practical for most tasks handled by personal computers, but they excel at large-scale calculations such as searching databases, running simulations, and even breaking encryptions. The video below is the simplest explanation of quantum computing I have seen so far.
It seems like every few months, quantum computing reaches a new milestone. Last month, at the International Conference on Quantum Technologies in Moscow, attendees and reporters gathered in mass for Professor John Martinis’ presentation of a chip embedded with 49 qubits. Instead, in a fashion that reminds me of Steve Harvey announcing the Miss Universe pageant, Mikhail Lukin, a Harvard professor and co-founder of the Russian Quantum Centermade his own announcement and stole the show.
Lukin’s team had successfully created the world’s most powerful, functional quantum computer to date, which runs on 51 qubits. The device was tested successfully at Harvard, where it solved physics problems that silicon chip-based supercomputers were struggling with.
Most quantum computers have been designed using superconductors and even semiconductors. Martinis’ 49-qubit chip was constructed in this fashion. Since traditional semiconductor materials are reaching their limits, Lukin’s team took a different approach.
The 51-qubit machine uses “cold atoms” in place of qubits that are locked onto laser cells. Cold atom physics is the discipline of studying atoms at incredibly low temperatures (.0000001 degrees Kelvin) in order to recreate quantum conditions. Cooling atoms to temperatures near absolute zero slows their movement down and makes them easier to observe. The video below gives an introduction to cold atom physics (starting at 1:35). After that, we’ll get into the biggest question I had about all of this:
How the heck do super-cooled atoms with lasers shining through them make a computer?
Lukin’s team wrote a research paper (PDF) explaining the experiment they set up. After sifting through the equations, I arrived at the data-reading mechanism. The setup consists of a linear array101 evenly spaced “optical tweezers”, which are generated by feeding a multi-tone RF signal into an into an acousto-optic deflector.
In simpler terms, they shine a laser beam through a vacuum tube and take fluorescence images(a type of laser scanning microscopy) of the atoms as they change betweenpositions. The “traps” that control the position of the atoms are programmable, which allows this super cooledvacuum tube with a laser shooting through it to function like a quantum computer.
As computing devices become ever smaller, engineers have been teaming up with scientists from other disciplines like physics and biology to make some outside-the box computing devices. Although it’s unlikely that any of these will end up in personal devices anytime soon (or ever), it always reminds me that a computer is just a device that calculates problems, and what our concept of a “computer” will look like in 100 years might just be beyond our current levels of comprehension.
If you’d like to learn more about quantum computing, I’ve compiled some resources below along with some of my favorite outlandish non-silicon computers!
Featured image used courtesy of Kurzgesagt
- This is what a 50-qubit quantum computer looks like - January 15th, 2018
- Inside Microsofts quantum computing world | InfoWorld - January 1st, 2018
- Microsoft Takes Path Less Traveled to Build a Quantum ... - December 13th, 2017
- Researchers create new type of quantum computer | Harvard Gazette - December 12th, 2017
- Microsoft releases quantum computing development kit preview ... - December 12th, 2017
- Intel moves towards production quantum computing with new 17 ... - October 11th, 2017
- Quantum computer a possibility in 10 years - News.com.au - NEWS.com.au - September 7th, 2017
- Scientists Propose a New Kind of Quantum Computer, But What ... - Gizmodo - September 7th, 2017
- Quantum detectives in the hunt for the world's first quantum computer - Phys.Org - September 7th, 2017
- Scientists Just Found A Use For The Hashtag In Quantum Computing - Gizmodo Australia - September 4th, 2017
- The Future of AI: From Quantum Computing to the Internet of Things - Outer Places - September 4th, 2017
- We're About to Cross The 'Quantum Supremacy' Limit in Computing - ScienceAlert - September 2nd, 2017
- USRA Upgrades D-Wave Quantum Computer to 2000 Qubits - insideHPC - September 1st, 2017
- Quantum encrypted box hints at unhackable communication - Wired.co.uk - September 1st, 2017
- Quantum Computer Programming: What You Need to Learn to Get ... - TrendinTech - September 1st, 2017
- Google's John Martinis Believes Quantum Computing Threat to Be Long Way Off - Bitcoin News (press release) - August 31st, 2017
- Australian quantum computing outfit goes commercial - Networks Asia - August 31st, 2017
- Elusive Majorana Particle Takes Major Step Towards Quantum Computing - IEEE Spectrum - August 29th, 2017
- Australia gets quantum computing company - ACS (registration) - August 28th, 2017
- Quantum Computing and Financial Trading - LeapRate - August 28th, 2017
- Russians Lead the Quantum Computer Race With 51-Qubit Machine - Edgy Labs (blog) - August 28th, 2017
- Bitcoin vs. The NSAs Quantum Computer Bitcoin Not Bombs - August 26th, 2017
- qBitcoin: A Way of Making Bitcoin Quantum-Computer Proof? - IEEE Spectrum - August 26th, 2017
- Hype and cash are muddying public understanding of quantum ... - Phys.Org - August 26th, 2017
- Silicon Quantum Computing launched to commercialise UNSW ... - ZDNet - August 23rd, 2017
- IEEE Approves Standards Project for Quantum Computing ... - Business Wire (press release) - August 23rd, 2017
- Introducing Australia's first quantum computing hardware company - CIO Australia - August 23rd, 2017
- What is quantum computer? - Definition from WhatIs.com - August 22nd, 2017
- Hype and cash are muddying public understanding of quantum computing - The Conversation AU - August 22nd, 2017
- Finns chill out quantum computers with qubit refrigerator to cut out errors - ZDNet - August 22nd, 2017
- UNSW joins with government and business to keep quantum computing technology in Australia - The Australian Financial Review - August 22nd, 2017
- 'Tools of DESTRUCTION' Quantum computers WILL wreak havoc ... - Express.co.uk - August 19th, 2017
- Quantum computing comes of age - Alphr - August 14th, 2017
- No, Quantum Teleportation Won't Let Us Send Instant Messages to Alpha Centauri - Air & Space Magazine - August 12th, 2017
- Google on track for quantum computer breakthrough by end of ... - August 11th, 2017
- Closing In On Quantum Computing | WIRED - August 11th, 2017
- World's Leading Physicist Says Quantum Computers Are Tools of Destruction, Not Creation - Futurism - August 10th, 2017
- Will you be able to trust a quantum computer? - Digital Journal - August 9th, 2017
- New Methods of Controlling Electrons Could be Major in Quantum Computing - TrendinTech - August 5th, 2017
- Exactly what could quantum computers do? - Electronics Weekly - August 4th, 2017
- What is quantum computing and why does the future of Earth depend on it? - Alphr - August 2nd, 2017
- The Age of Quantum Computers is upon us! - Gizbot - August 2nd, 2017
- Ultracold molecules hold promise for quantum computing | MIT News - MIT News - August 1st, 2017
- Clarifiying complex chemical processes with quantum computers - Phys.Org - August 1st, 2017
- When Will Quantum Computers Be Consumer Products? - Futurism - August 1st, 2017
- Quantum Computers Just Moved a Step Closer to Reality - NBCNews.com - August 1st, 2017
- A New Breakthrough in Quantum Computing is Set to Transform Our ... - Futurism - August 1st, 2017
- Quantum computers compete for supremacy - Salon - July 10th, 2017
- Quantum Computers Compete for "Supremacy" - Scientific American - July 5th, 2017
- Less is more for Canadian quantum computing researchers - ITworld - July 4th, 2017
- New method could enable more stable and scalable quantum ... - Phys.Org - July 4th, 2017
- Volkswagen buys D-Wave quantum computers which sell for $15 million each - Robotics and Automation News (press release) (registration) - July 2nd, 2017
- 6 Things Quantum Computers Will Be Incredibly Useful For - Singularity Hub - July 1st, 2017
- Quantum Machine Learning Computer Hybrids at the Center of New Start-Ups - TrendinTech - June 20th, 2017
- Israel Enters Quantum Computer Race, Placing Encryption at Ever-Greater Risk - Sputnik International - June 20th, 2017
- Prototype device enables photon-photon interactions at room ... - Phys.Org - June 20th, 2017
- The Quantum Computer Factory That's Taking on Google and IBM - WIRED - June 20th, 2017
- Toward optical quantum computing - MIT News - June 17th, 2017
- Get ahead in quantum computing AND attract Goldman Sachs - eFinancialCareers - June 16th, 2017
- KPN CISO details Quantum computing attack dangers - Mobile World Live - June 16th, 2017
- Quantum Computing Technologies markets will reach $10.7 billion by 2024 - PR Newswire (press release) - June 14th, 2017
- From the Abacus to Supercomputers to Quantum Computers - Duke Today - June 13th, 2017
- Quantum Computers Will Analyze Every Financial Model at Once - Singularity Hub - June 13th, 2017
- Are Enterprises Ready to Take a Quantum Leap? - IT Business Edge - June 13th, 2017
- Scientists May Have Found a Way to Combat Quantum Computer Blockchain Hacking - Futurism - June 13th, 2017
- Microsoft and Purdue work on scalable topological quantum computer - Next Big Future - June 13th, 2017
- Doped Diamonds Push Practical Quantum Computing Closer to Reality - Motherboard - June 3rd, 2017
- Team develops first blockchain that can't be hacked by quantum computer - Siliconrepublic.com - June 3rd, 2017
- D-Wave partners with U of T to move quantum computing along - Financial Post - June 2nd, 2017
- Telstra just wants a quantum computer to offer as-a-service - ZDNet - June 1st, 2017
- Microsoft, Purdue Tackle Topological Quantum Computer - HPCwire - HPCwire (blog) - June 1st, 2017
- MIT Just Unveiled A Technique to Mass Produce Quantum Computers - Futurism - June 1st, 2017
- Here's How We Can Achieve Mass-Produced Quantum Computers - ScienceAlert - June 1st, 2017
- Research collaborative pursues advanced quantum computing - Phys.Org - June 1st, 2017
- AI and Quantum Computers Are Our Best Weapons Against Cyber Criminals - Futurism - June 1st, 2017
- Scientists claim to have invented the world's first quantum-proof ... - ScienceAlert - June 1st, 2017
- Google Plans to Demonstrate the Supremacy of Quantum ... - IEEE Spectrum - May 25th, 2017
- Top 5: Things to know about quantum computers - TechRepublic - May 25th, 2017
- Is the US falling behind in the race for quantum computing? - AroundtheO - May 25th, 2017
- Artificial intelligence and quantum computing aid cyber crime fight - Financial Times - May 25th, 2017