Quantum computers promise to deliver more processing power than conventional computers, and Aussie researchers could be the first to develop them.
If you like to keep up to date with your physics news, you have probably encountered the word ‘quantum’ before in different variations: there’s quantum mechanics, quantum theory, quantum physics, a quantum leap and many more. In physics, a quantum is the minimum amount of any physical entity that is needed in an interaction of some kind. For example, a photon is the single quantum of light because photons are the elementary particles necessary for light to interact with other physical phenomena.
To put the quantum idea another way, let’s say your absolute favourite food is chocolate and in front of you is a great, big chocolate mud cake. Now, imagine all the other ingredients that were added to make the cake—eggs, flour, sugar, cocoa powder, cream and butter. You could do without all of them because the quantum of this cake (your favourite elementary ingredient) is the chocolate.
In quantum computing, scientists use the single electron or nucleus of an atom as the basic processing unit—called a quantum bit or “qubit”—to power computers. Conventional computers, on the other hand, run on electricity, which is why we connect them to a power outlet. It is thought that quantum computers will be much more powerful than the computers we use today and they will be able to perform multiple complex functions simultaneously.
A team of Australian researchers have achieved a breakthrough in quantum science by detecting the spin, or quantum state, of a single erbium atom—a rare earth element—embedded in silicon. This means that scientists are one step closer to being able to manipulate the spin of a single atom and use the energy from the reaction to power quantum computers.
“This is a revolutionary new technique, and people had doubts it was possible,” said Sven Rogge, author of the paper published in Nature, in a news release. “It is the first step towards a global quantum internet.”
The researchers said it will take a decade before quantum computers and the “quanternet” will be fully realised. They also suggested that the large power capacity of these computers will have broad applications in economic modelling, faster data-base searches, modelling of biological molecules and drugs in medicine and in the military and defence industries.
Everything in the universe is made up of atoms: they are the basic building blocks of matter. Atoms consist of a dense central sphere called a nucleus surrounded by a cloud of negatively charged electrons.