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.
Magicians have long created the illusion of levitating objects in the air. Now researchers have actually levitated an object, suspending it without the need for external support. Working at the molecular level, the researchers relied on the tendency of certain combinations of molecules to repel each other at close contact, effectively suspending one surface above another by a microscopic distance.
Researchers from Harvard University and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have measured, for the first time, a repulsive quantum mechanical force that could be harnessed and tailored for a wide range of new nanotechnology applications.
The study, led by Federico Capasso, Robert L. Wallace Professor of Applied Physics at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS), will be published as the January 8 cover story of Nature.
The discovery builds on previous work related to what is called the Casimir force. While long considered only of theoretical interest, physicists discovered that this attractive force, caused by quantum fluctuations of the energy associated with Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, becomes significant when the space between two metallic surfaces, such as two mirrors facing one another, measures less than about 100 nanometers.
I hope Intel warned the Luddites and pessimists away at the door, because the chipmaker had a lot of bullish statements Thursday about its belief that computers will become smarter than humans.
At the Intel Developer Forum here, Intel Chief Technology Officer Justin Rattner showed off a number of technologies in computing, robotics, and communication that he cited as evidence that Ray Kurzweil’s concept of “singularity,” when machine intelligence surpasses human intelligence, is impending. Demonstrations spotlighted the wireless transmission of electrical power, dextrous robots with new sensory abilities, a direct interface to the brain, programmable materials that can be used for shape-shifting devices such as resizable cell phones, and silicon photonics that enables chips to communicate with photons rather than electrons.
“We’re making steady progress toward Ray Kurzweil’s singularity,” Rattner said.
Intel of course remains at its heart a chipmaker, and Rattner began with a brief tour, assisted by Mike Garner, senior technologist for Intel’s emerging materials group, of various successors to the current complimentary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) process used to make processors. Future ideas that pack ever more computing capacity into a given volume include spintronics, quantum computing, carbon nanotubes.
It’s good to see a big name such as Intel take seriously Kurzweil’s ideas on accelerating progress, the Singularity, etc.
The more people are working towards a common goal, the better.
Scientists Scan Striking Nanoscale Images
For the first time, late last year, a team of British scientists filmed the nanoscale interaction of an attacking virus with an enzyme and a DNA strand in real time.
This was the latest breakthrough in the advancement of scanning probe microscopes — the family of nonoptical microscopes researchers use to create striking images through raster scans of individual atoms.
The granddaddy of them all is the scanning tunneling microscope, a 1986 invention that won its creators the Nobel Prize. STMs pass an electrical probe over a substance, allowing scientists to visualize regions of high electron density and infer the position of individual atoms and molecules.
To mark the 25th anniversary of the development of STMs, an international contest — SPMage07 — showcasing the best STM images was founded.
Turning ‘funky’ quantum mysteries into computing reality
The strange world of quantum mechanics can provide a way to surpass limits in speed, efficiency and accuracy of computing, communications and measurement, according to research by MIT scientist Seth Lloyd.
Quantum mechanics is the set of physical theories that explain the behavior of matter and energy at the scale of atoms and subatomic particles. It includes a number of strange properties that differ significantly from the way things work at sizes that people can observe directly, which are governed by classical physics.
“There are limits, if you think classically,” said Lloyd, a professor in MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics and Department of Mechanical Engineering. But while classical physics imposes limits that are already beginning to constrain things like computer chip development and precision measuring systems, “once you think quantum mechanically you can start to surpass those limits,” he said.
Lloyd will be speaking about this research at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Boston, on Saturday, Feb. 16, in a session on Quantum Information Theory.
“Over the last decade, a bunch of my colleagues and postdocs and I have been looking at how quantum mechanics can make things better.” What Lloyd refers to as the “funky effects” of quantum theory, such as squeezing and entanglement, could ultimately be harnessed to make measurements of time and distance more precise and computers more efficient. “Once you open your eyes to the quantum world, you see a whole lot of things you simply cannot do classically,” he said.
Among the ways that these quantum effects are beginning to be harnessed in the lab, he said, is in prototypes of new imaging systems that can precisely track the time of arrival of individual photons, the basic particles of light. “There’s significantly greater accuracy in the time-of-arrival measurement than what one would expect,” he said. And this could ultimately lead to systems that can detect finer detail, for example in a microscope’s view of a minuscule object, than what were thought to be the ultimate physical limitations of optical systems set by the dimensions of wavelengths of light.