Mikhail Lukin (from left), Georg Kucsko, and Christian Latta are part of a group of Harvard scientists who were able to create quantum bits and store information in them for nearly two seconds, an increase of nearly six orders of magnitude over the life span of earlier systems. (Photo : Stephanie Mitchell)
A team of scientists from Harvard have created a fundamental aspect of quantum computing - quantum bits, or qubits - at room temperature. Current technologies require trapping atoms in a vacuum and then supercooling using expensive, bulky, and unintuitive technologies.
"This research is an important step forward in research toward one day building a practical quantum computer," said Georg Kucsko, one of two first authors of the paper. "For the first time, we have a system that has a reasonable timescale for memory and simplicity, so this is now something we can pursue."
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How did they do it? The answer lies in diamonds.
The scientists used impurities from laboratory-grown diamonds to achieve this feat.
"What we've been able to achieve in terms of control is quite unprecedented," said Mikhail Lukin, team leader. "We have a qubit, at room temperature, that we can measure with very high efficiency and fidelity. We can encode data in it, and we can store it for a relatively long time. We believe this work is limited only by technical issues, so it looks feasible to increase the lifespan into the range of hours. At that point, a host of real-world applications become possible."
What are the implications?
The fact that computers tend to overheat is obvious to anyone who has sat with a notebook in their lap. Now imagine if the computer were trying to process billions of bits of data, and not just your operating system, Facebook page, and Twitter account. This is what quantum computing wants to be able to do: process large amounts of information. So how can they allow processors to work extra hard without melting down?
Quantum computing is, in many minds, the next big evolutionary step in technology. It would allow us to surpass the limitations of a binary system and create computing systems that can handle far more tasks at once, and do them with the efficiency of natural conduits. Their usability has only been observed in extreme conditions, and the new discovery at room temperature makes it much more practical.