Researchers claim quantum computer breakthrough

Researchers say they have invented a tiny crystal with a capability well beyond that of any computer. [ABC]
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Researchers say they have invented a tiny crystal with a capability well beyond that of any computer. [ABC]

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Tiny super computer

Created: 26/04/2012

Conor Duffy, science and environment reporter

Last Updated: Thu, 26 Apr 2012 14:19:00 +1000

Australian and international researchers say they have designed a tiny crystal able to run a quantum computer so powerful it would take a computer the size of the known universe to match it.

Details of the ion crystal, which is made up of just 300 atoms, are published in the journal Nature by a team from Australia, South Africa and the United States.

"We've surpassed the computational potential of this system relative to classical computers by something like 10 to the [power of] 80, which is 80 orders of magnitude, a really enormous number," the University of Sydney's Dr Michael Biercuk said.

"Quantum computing is a kind of information science that is based on the notion that if one performs computations in a fundamentally different way than the way your classical desktop computer works, there's a huge potential to solve a variety of problems that are very, very hard or near impossible for standard computers.

"If you wanted to think how big a classical computer would need to be in order to solve this problem of roughly 300 interacting quantum particles, it turns out that that computer would need to be the size of the known universe - which is clearly something that's not possible to achieve."

However, he says there is still plenty of work to do.

"The central element is something like a millimetre in diameter, 300 atoms that are suspended in space," he said.

"But of course everything depends on a huge amount of technical infrastructure around it.

"So there are vacuum chambers and pumps and lasers, and all of that takes up something like a room."

The quantum computer will move to a stage where it is so far out in front and performing such complex tasks it will be difficult to check if it is working accurately.

"They're not easily checked by a classical computer which opens a whole variety of problems," Dr Biercuk said.

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