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Science Hardware Technology

First Electronic Quantum Processor Created 205

ScienceDaily is reporting that the first rudimentary solid-state quantum processor has been created by a team led by Yale University researchers. "Working with a group of theoretical physicists led by Steven Girvin, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Physics & Applied Physics, the team manufactured two artificial atoms, or qubits ('quantum bits'). While each qubit is actually made up of a billion aluminum atoms, it acts like a single atom that can occupy two different energy states. These states are akin to the '1' and '0' or 'on' and 'off' states of regular bits employed by conventional computers. Because of the counterintuitive laws of quantum mechanics, however, scientists can effectively place qubits in a 'superposition' of multiple states at the same time, allowing for greater information storage and processing power."
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First Electronic Quantum Processor Created

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  • by TheGeniusIsOut ( 1282110 ) on Monday June 29, 2009 @01:03PM (#28515943)
    The possible applications for this technology are an exciting prospect. Handheld supercomputers, true real-time physics simulations for research and gaming, maybe even time travelling phone booths...
    • by Abreu ( 173023 )

      It's "time travelling police booths"

    • Google Maps - Traveling Salesmen.

      Imagine how much fuel could be saved by UPS or FedEx in a given year.

    • by rdnetto ( 955205 )

      time travelling phone booths

      That would be awesome! We could call them Telephone And Restrooms Designed for Intelligent Species!

  • Lab Site & Papers (Score:5, Informative)

    by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <> on Monday June 29, 2009 @01:06PM (#28515989) Journal
    You can find the lab site here [] with several papers freely available in pre-publication form on arxiv [] from the researchers. I'm trying to find the "basic algorithms" the article alludes to that these rudimentary processors can perform. I thought only a handful were applicable (Shor's algorithm) to quantum computing. Anyone know?
  • Simulating? (Score:3, Informative)

    by immakiku ( 777365 ) on Monday June 29, 2009 @01:06PM (#28516001)

    While each qubit is actually made up of a billion aluminum atoms, it acts like a single atom that can occupy two different energy states.

    Does this sound like they're using real atoms to simulate qubits? Perhaps I'm misinterpretting, but it looks like it's still going to take an exponential amount of resources to "make" each additional qubit.

    • Why would it take an exponential amount of resources? One of these qubits only amounts to around 1.66 Ã-- 10e-14 percent of a mole of aluminum. For every mole of aluminum they can create 6 quadrillion qubits. I'm not sure how many qubits would be needed for a quantum computer but I'm doubting it's much more than that.

      • That should be "1.66x10e-14 percent".

      • Well that's my question. Does it scale linearly with the number of qubits? The article is not very clear about that.

        • Well that's my question. Does it scale linearly with the number of qubits? The article is not very clear about that.

          I see no indication that the number of atoms per qubit will scale at all in relation to anything but time spent in a quantum state. It's purely speculation (given a single data point) to assume that this number will scale at all just because qubits are added. It's also speculation to assume they won't, but it seems the more logical guess. The obvious correlation would be between number of atoms and ease of reading them.

          As for being only 2 qubits, that's just to make the prototype simpler to create.

      • by billcopc ( 196330 ) <> on Monday June 29, 2009 @02:22PM (#28517181) Homepage

        640K qubits ought to be enough for anybody

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by SUB7IME ( 604466 )
          Actually, that is true.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by OldSoldier ( 168889 )

            Yea... as I understand it, since a qubit can represent 0 and 1 simultaneously. In a sense a single qubit represents 2 bits, one bit in a 0 state and one bit in a 1 state. Ten qubits, can represent all 2^10 states simultaneously, so in that same sense 10 qubits can represent 1024 normal bits. 640K qubits can represent a HUGE number of classical orientation of bits. (This is about 10^800 times the larger than the number of atoms in the universe [])

            That said... I'd be curious to get some more expert feedback on t

          • What if they try to crack my 1 Mb encryption key?

    • Re:Simulating? (Score:4, Informative)

      by dlenmn ( 145080 ) on Monday June 29, 2009 @02:11PM (#28517003)
      There's no simulation -- the large group of atoms forms one qubit. That's why this is interesting. Normally, only very small things (like one atom) exhibit quantum behavior. This system is large for something able to exhibit quantum behavior. All the parts effectively join together to act like one quantum system.
  • by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Monday June 29, 2009 @01:10PM (#28516075)
    I am not trying to split hairs. This is actually a rather important point: they did not manufacture "two artificial atoms, or qubits". They manufactured two clusters of atoms that acted as qubits.
    • by bostongraf ( 1216362 ) on Monday June 29, 2009 @01:38PM (#28516483)

      they did not manufacture "two artificial atoms, or qubits". They manufactured two clusters of atoms that acted as qubits.

      A qubit [] is not actually a quantum particle. It is a unit of quantum information. Now, do you consider the qubit to be the system or the state?

      • by Gryle ( 933382 )
        Schrodinger's qbit?
      • That is precisely my point. The wording of the article is akin to manufacturing a memory module with a million cells, and saying "the factory just created 1 million bits".

        A qubit is not a physical construct, it is a representation of data, just as a "bit" is not a physical construct, but a representation of data.
    • by Chris Mattern ( 191822 ) on Monday June 29, 2009 @02:02PM (#28516871)

      Riiiiight. What's a qubit?

    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by causality ( 777677 )

      I am not trying to split hairs. This is actually a rather important point: they did not manufacture "two artificial atoms, or qubits". They manufactured two clusters of atoms that acted as qubits.

      If the quality of journalism we see for politics or for useless celebrity trivia became just like the quality of journalism we see for technical matters, there would be significant backlashes against it. Joe Sixpack might not care about the distinction between abstract qubits and their physical implementation, but by God they better not misreport how many times $POP_SINGER has been divorced!

      Though I'm not so sure that blatantly inaccurate (or misleading) statements are worse than the way more mainstream

    • by RWerp ( 798951 )
      That's why these were called "artifical atoms" (emphasis added). I think that it is a sufficiently accurate description for an article targeted at non-professional audience.
      • by RWerp ( 798951 )
        PS. And they did explain later in the text that "While each qubit is actually made up of a billion aluminum atoms, it acts like a single atom that can occupy two different energy states.". You are splitting hairs, my friend ;-)
        • Perhaps, but those weren't the hairs I was splitting. The article stated that the "artificial atoms" (incorrect enough to start with), were two qubits. And that is simply incorrect. They held two qubits of data... which is a different matter entirely.
          • by RWerp ( 798951 )
            Again, this is a metaphor targeted at non-professional audience. "They were two qubits" sounds more tangible than "held two qubits of data".
  • by GameGod0 ( 680382 ) on Monday June 29, 2009 @01:11PM (#28516085) []

    (For those with access to Nature through school or work...)
  • by filesiteguy ( 695431 ) <> on Monday June 29, 2009 @01:15PM (#28516137) Homepage
    Sorry, couldn't resist.

    Seriously, I wonder if this comes to pass and we continue on the binary process forever. (IIRC, some mainframes back in the '40s and '50s used decimal processing, which was too slow then, so all switched eventually to binary.)
  • Quick! (Score:2, Funny)

    by alexborges ( 313924 )

    Feed 42 to it and let us know how it goes!

  • by RudeIota ( 1131331 ) on Monday June 29, 2009 @02:00PM (#28516837) Homepage

    While each qubit is actually made up of a billion aluminum atoms, it acts like a single atom that can occupy two different energy states.

    This sounds a like a bose-einstein condensate, where many atoms will act is if though they are all part of a larger, single atom. Also, it gains some pretty interesting properties, neither of which can be described exactly as solid, liquid or gas.

    The article didn't mention anything about near absolute zero temps, though.

    • by reverseengineer ( 580922 ) on Monday June 29, 2009 @03:06PM (#28517851)
      The ScienceDaily article and the /. summary seem to be confused on the experimental setup. From the Nature article, "[e]ach qubit has a split Josephson junction...." The Josephson effect is an effect where two superconductors are separated by a very thin insulating layer. A "supercurrent" composed of paired correlated electrons (Cooper pairs) can tunnel across this barrier under certain circumstances. Cooper pairs act as bosons, just as atoms do in Bose-Einstein condensates, so they have long been a focus of research for quantum computing. In this experiment, the device was a "180nm Nb film was d.c.-magnetron sputtered on the epipolished surface of an R-plane corundum wafer," meaning that the superconductor they used was niobium, and the insulator was aluminum oxide, aka corundum. They built it out of these [], in other words.

      They go on to mention that the apparatus was cooled to 13 millikelvin using a helium dilution refrigerator. Now, niobium is superconductive to about 9 kelvin in the pure state (and about 23 kelvin in some alloys), so I would assume the extra effort to make it that cold has more to do with preserving the delicate electronic state of the qubits than with merely chilling the superconductors.
  • "First Electronic Quantum Processor Created".. Sorry to spoil the fun, but does anyone do facts checking with these articles before posting? Guess not, because these [] guys presented a 28 qbit prototype and working quantum processor back in 07 [].
  • Until you read this message.
  • I for one welcome our Linux running Qubit overlords and in full disclousure IANAL but ITFA they had me ROTFL'ing when I pondered Linxu being greated then Micro$oft running in an N-Dimensional space until NYCL told me that my ImaginaryProperty was sold by kdawson to CmdTaco because Truth != Facts != Love != Reality after SCO and the RIAA\MPAA sued Open Source and WON!

    Therefore your post sucks and should be deleted.

  • The fact that they managed to construct a quantum computing device using solid-state physics is a technological breakthrough. It may revive the interest in the topic (which was fading due to lack of technological progress).
  • If they got this far and we know about it then how far has the NSA gotten?

    this has serious implications for RSA.

  • by mathimus1863 ( 1120437 ) on Monday June 29, 2009 @05:20PM (#28520061)
    I took a class on Quantum computing, and studied many specific QC algorithms, so I know a little bit about them. A lot of misunderstandings about them, so let me summarize.

    Quantum Computers are not super-computers. On a bit-for-bit (or qubit-for-qubit) scale, they're not necessarily faster than regular computers, they just process info differently. Since information is stored in a quantum "superposition" of states, as opposed to a deterministic state like regular computers, the qubits exhibit quantum interference around other qubits. Typically, your bit starts in 50% '0' and 50% '1', and thus when you measure it, you get a 50% chance of it being one or the other (and then it assumes that state). But if you don't measure, and push it through quantum circuits allowing them to interact with other qubits, you get the quantum phases to interfere and cancel out. If you are damned smart (as I realized you have to be, to design QC algorithms), you can figure out creative ways to encode your problem into qubits, and use the interference to cancel out the information you don't want, and leave the information you do want.

    For instance, some calculations will start with the 50/50 qubit above, and end with 99% '0' and 1% '1' at the end of the calculation, or vice versa, depending on the answer. Then you've got a 99% chance of getting the right answer. If you run the calculation twice, you have a 99.99% chance of measuring the correct answer.

    However, the details of these circuits which perform quantum algorithms are extremely non-intuitive to most people, even those who study it. I found it to require an amazing degree of creativity, to figure out how to combine qubits to take advantage of quantum interference constructively. But what does this get us?

    Well it turns out that quantum computers can run anything a classical computer can do, and such algorithms can be written identically if you really wanted to, but doing so gets the same results as the classical computer (i.e. same order of growth). But, the smart people who have been publishing papers about this for the past 20 years have been finding new ways to combine qubits, to take advantage of nature of certain problems (usually deep, pure-math concepts), to achieve better orders of growth than possible on a classical computer. For instance, factoring large numbers is difficult on classical computers, which is why RSA/PGP/GPG/PKI/SSL is secure. It's order of growth is e^( n^(1/3) ). It's not quite exponential, but it's still prohibitive. It turns out that Shor figured out how to get it to n^2 on a quantum computer (which is the same order of growth as decrypting with the private key on a classical computer!). Strangely, trying to guess someone's encryption key, normally O(n) on classical computers (where n is the number of possible keys encryption keys) it's only O(sqrt(n)) on QCs. Weird (but sqrt(n) is still usually too big).

    There's a vast number of other problems for which efficient quantum algorithms have been found. Unfortunately, a lot of these problems aren't particularly useful in real life (besides to the curious pure-mathematician). A lot of them are better, but not phenomenal. Like verifying that two sparse matrices were mulitplied correctly has order of growth n^(7/3) on a classical computer, n^(5/3) on a quantum computer. You can find a pretty extensive list by googling "quantum algorithm zoo."

    Unfortunately [for humanity], there is no evidence yet that quantum computers will solve NP-complete problems efficiently. Most likely, they won't. So don't get your hopes up about solving the traveling salesmen problem any time soon. But there is still a lot of cool stuff we can do with them. In fact, the theory is so far ahead of the technology, that we're anxiously waiting for breakthroughs like this, so we can start plugging problems through known algorithms.

Bell Labs Unix -- Reach out and grep someone.