An international team of scientists has performed the ultimate miniaturisation of computer memory: storing information inside the nucleus of an atom. This breakthrough is a key step in bringing to life a quantum computer - a device based on the fundamental theory of quantum mechanics which could crack problems unsolvable by current technology.
In the quantum world, objects such as atoms are allowed to exist in multiple states simultane-ously -- that is, they could literally be in two places at once or possess a number of other seemingly mutually exclusive properties. Quantum computing is seen as the holy grail of computing because each individual piece of information, or bit, can have more than one value at once, as opposed to current technology which is limited to either 1s or 0s. This yields unprecedented processing power and thus dramatically widens the scope of what computers can do.
The problem: How do you isolate a quantum bit from a noisy environment to protect the deli-cate quantum information, while at the same time allowing it to interact with the outside world so that it can be manipulated and measured?
The team, with scientists and engineers from Oxford and Princeton universities and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, reported a solution to this problem in the Oct. 23 issue of the journal Nature.
The teams plan was to devise a hybrid system using both the electron and nucleus of an atom of phosphorous embedded in a silicon crystal. Each behaves as a tiny quantum magnet capa-ble of storing quantum information, but inside the crystal the electron is more than a million times bigger than the nucleus, with a magnetic field that is a thousand times stronger. This makes the electron well-suited for manipulation and measurement, but not so good for storing information, which can become rapidly corrupted. This is where the nucleus comes in: when the information in the electron is ready for storage, it is moved into
|Contact: Steven Schultz|
Princeton University, Engineering School