The researchers have created components that could one day be used to develop quantum computers – devices based on molecular scale technology instead of silicon chips and which would be much faster than conventional computers.
The study, by scientists at the Universities of Manchester and Edinburgh and published in the journal Nature, was funded by the European Commission.
Scientists have achieved the breakthrough by combining tiny magnets with molecular machines that can shuttle between two locations without the use of external force. These manoeuvrable magnets could one day be used as the basic component in quantum computers.
Conventional computers work by storing information in the form of bits, which can represent information in binary code – either as zero or one.
Quantum computers will use quantum binary digits, or qubits, which are far more sophisticated – they are capable of representing not only zero and one, but a range of values simultaneously. Their complexity will enable quantum computers to perform intricate calculations much more quickly than conventional computers.
Professor David Leigh, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Chemistry, said: “This development brings super-fast, non-silicon based computing a step closer.