Scientists' 'recipe' to help build a quantum computer

Dec 12, 2005

Scientists have come up with a "recipe" to help build the world’s first quantum computer – a new generation of super-fast machines set to revolutionise scientific discovery.

Quantum technology could be used to crack codes – valuable for national security – and is already used in some bank transactions. Future developments could involve understanding chemical reactions creating medicines, ultra-fast communications systems and seemingly impossible simulations, such as the creation of our universe.

A quantum computer would use the seemingly magical properties of tiny particles such as atoms to hold, process and transport the vast amounts of information – and all in the fraction of the time it would take a conventional computer.

The atoms would first need to be isolated from the billions around us, then converted into ions (charged atoms) and manipulated to perform tasks by use of electric fields. This is done using an ion trap. Scientists have so far trapped single atoms, but the real challenge lies in being able to orchestrate the millions of atoms needed to build a quantum computer.

Dr Winfried Hensinger, Lecturer in Atomic Molecular and Optical Physics at the University of Sussex, was part of a team in the USA that has developed a new way of mass-manufacturing ion traps using microchip technology.

This technique means that the traps, which need to be the size of a human hair to make a quantum computer of feasible scale, can be made quickly and sophisticated enough to allow useful computations. Details of the research, led by Professor Chris Monroe at the University of Michigan, are published in the science journal Nature Physics.

The process – photolithography – produces a 3-D “nano sculpture”, chemically etched out of gallium arsenide (a semi-conductor material similar to the silicon used in microchips).

Dr Hensinger says: ”Making a nano sculpture to trap single atoms and control their motion is very difficult. What we have done is to refine the recipe used in microchip manufacture to make traps for single atoms. Now we could make any kind of trap we need, in the quantity needed. This takes us a step nearer to building the first quantum computer.”

Quantum computers are important, says Dr Hensinger, because they will help to unlock some of science’s biggest secrets, not only by processing information faster, but giving far more accurate results. He says: “A quantum computer would allow us to solve some very big physics problems, where before the scale of the computer needed, and the time it would take to process data, would make the experiment unfeasible. It will have a huge impact on areas such as chemistry and in understanding nature as we know it. It will revolutionise all of science.”

Dr Hensinger now intends to continue his research into the development of a quantum computer at Sussex, where he has set up the Ion Quantum Technology Group. He says: “This is an exciting time for quantum physics, and for physics at Sussex, where I hope to work with colleagues in developing this work further.”

Publication: Ion trap in a Semiconductor Chip, D. Stick, W. K. Hensinger, S. Olmschenk, M. J. Madsen, K. Schwab and C. Monroe, Nature Physics advance online publication, 11 December 2005 (doi:10.1038/nphys171).

Source: University of Sussex

Explore further: New filter could advance terahertz data transmission

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Quantum computer as detector shows space is not squeezed

Jan 28, 2015

Ever since Einstein proposed his special theory of relativity in 1905, physics and cosmology have been based on the assumption that space looks the same in all directions - that it's not squeezed in one direction ...

How iron feels the heat

Feb 13, 2015

As you heat up a piece of iron, the arrangement of the iron atoms changes several times before melting. This unusual behavior is one reason why steel, in which iron plays a starring role, is so sturdy and ...

Recommended for you

New filter could advance terahertz data transmission

Feb 27, 2015

University of Utah engineers have discovered a new approach for designing filters capable of separating different frequencies in the terahertz spectrum, the next generation of communications bandwidth that ...

The super-resolution revolution

Feb 27, 2015

Cambridge scientists are part of a resolution revolution. Building powerful instruments that shatter the physical limits of optical microscopy, they are beginning to watch molecular processes as they happen, ...

Precision gas sensor could fit on a chip

Feb 27, 2015

Using their expertise in silicon optics, Cornell engineers have miniaturized a light source in the elusive mid-infrared (mid-IR) spectrum, effectively squeezing the capabilities of a large, tabletop laser onto a 1-millimeter ...

A new X-ray microscope for nanoscale imaging

Feb 27, 2015

Delivering the capability to image nanostructures and chemical reactions down to nanometer resolution requires a new class of x-ray microscope that can perform precision microscopy experiments using ultra-bright ...

New research signals big future for quantum radar

Feb 26, 2015

A prototype quantum radar that has the potential to detect objects which are invisible to conventional systems has been developed by an international research team led by a quantum information scientist at the University ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.