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.
QUANTUM computing for the masses could come a step closer if tests prove successful on a prototype chip designed to process more quantum data than any previous device.
Quantum computers have the potential to be vastly more powerful than conventional machines because they exploit the rules of quantum mechanics to perform many calculations in parallel. They are difficult to build, however, because quantum information is easily destroyed. The most powerful machines to date can cope with only a handful of quantum bits, or qubits, making them little more capable than a hand-held calculator.
In contrast, the prototype chip built by D-Wave Systems in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, is designed to handle 128 qubits of information. The data is stored in 128 superconducting niobium loops as either a clockwise or an anticlockwise current, representing a 0 or a 1, or as a qubit with both currents at the same time in a quantum superposition. When the information needs to be processed, the individual qubits are manipulated by a magnetic field. To make the entire chip superconduct so that the currents can flow indefinitely without dissipating heat, it is cooled to 0.01 °C above absolute zero.
Because superconducting circuits are relatively large, they are easier to manufacture than other types of quantum devices, which manipulate single electrons or photons and so need to be much smaller. “It can be built using standard semiconductor approaches,” says Geordie Rose, chief technology officer of D-Wave. In addition, the method of computation, called adiabatic computing, does not use logic gates, further simplifying the design.
Astronomers discover largest dark matter structures, spanning 270M light-years
A University of British Columbia astronomer with an international team has discovered the largest structures of dark matter ever seen. Measuring 270 million light-years across, these dark matter structures criss-cross the night sky, each spanning an area that is eight times larger than the full moon.
“The results are a major leap forward since the presence of a cosmic dark matter web that extends over such large distances has never been observed before,” says Ludovic Van Waerbeke, an assistant professor in the Dept. of Physics and Astronomy.
To glimpse the unseen structures, the team of French and Canadian scientists “X-rayed” the dark matter, an invisible web that makes up more than 80 per cent of the mass of the universe.
The team used a recently developed technique called “weak gravitational lensing,” which is similar to taking an X-ray of the body to reveal the underlying skeleton. The study relied on data gathered from the world’s largest digital camera.
“This new knowledge is crucial for us to understand the history and evolution of the cosmos,” says Van Waerbeke. “Such a tool will also enable us to glimpse a little more of the nature of dark matter.”
Google sponsors new race to the moon
More than three decades after the last Apollo astronauts roamed the lunar surface, disparate universities, open-source engineers and quixotic aerospace start-ups are planning to start their own robotic missions to the Earth’s barren cousin.
The return to the moon is part of the Google Lunar X Prize, a competition sponsored by Google with $30 million in prizes for the first two teams to land a robotic rover on the moon and send images and other data back home.
At Google’s headquarters here Thursday, 10 teams from five countries announced their intention to participate in the competition.
They include a team led by William Whitaker, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and a renowned roboticist; an affiliation of four universities and two major aerospace companies in Italy; and one group comprised of a loose association of engineers coordinating their efforts online.
At the event, the new lunar explorers shared some high-minded goals, like reigniting moon exploration and jump-starting an age of space commerce. “This is about developing a new generation of technology that is cheaper, can be used more often and will enable a new wave of explorers,” said Peter Diamandis, chairman of the X Prize Foundation.