Scientists have taken a step closer to making multitasking “quantum” computers, more powerful than today's most advanced supercomputers.
Quantum computers take advantage of the strange qualities of subatomic particles.
The calls quantum particles can be in two places at the same time and also strangely connected, even though millions of kilometers separate them.
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A team at the University of Sussex transferred quantum information between computer chips at record speed and precision.
computer scientists carry more than 20 years trying to make an efficient quantum computer. Companies like Google, IBM, and Microsoft have developed simple machines.
But, according to Professor Winfried Hensinger, who led the research at the University of Sussex, the new breakthrough opens the way to systems capable of solving complex real-world problems of which the best computers we have today are incapable of.
“Right now we have quantum computers with very simple microchips,” he explains. “What we have achieved here is the ability to perform powerful quantum computers capable of solving some of the most important problems for industries and society”.
in two places at once
Currently, Computers solve problems in a linear fashion, one calculation at a time.
In the quantum realm, particles can be in two places at the same time, and researchers want to take advantage of this property to develop computers capable of performing multiple calculations simultaneously.
Quantum particles can also be millions of kilometers away and be strangely connected, mirroring each other's actions instantly. Again, this could be used to develop more powerful computers.
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One problem has been the need to transfer quantum information between chips quickly. and reliable: information is degraded and errors are introduced.
But Professor Hensinger's team has made a breakthrough, published in the journal Nature Communications, that may have cleared that hurdle.
The team has developed a system capable of transporting information from one chip to another with a reliability of 99.999993% at record speeds.
According to the researchers, this shows that, in principle, the chips could be put together to create a more powerful quantum computer.
Professor Michael Cuthbert, director of the newly created National Center for Quantum Computing in Didcot, Oxfordshire and independent from the Sussex research group, said progress as "a really important step."
However, he specified that it is necessary to continue working to develop practical systems.
“To build the kind of quantum computer that will be needed in the future, you start by connecting chips the size of your thumbnail to something the size of a dinner plate. The Sussex group has shown that you can get the stability and speed you need to take that step."
“But then you need a mechanism to connect these plates and scale a machine, potentially as big as a football field, in order to perform realistic and useful calculations, and communications technology for that scale is not yet available”.
PhD student Sahra Kulmiya, who conducted the Sussex experiment, claimed that the team is up for the challenge of taking technology to the next level.
"It's not just a physics problem anymore," he told BBC News.
"It's an engineering problem, computer science and also mathematics."
"It's hard to say how close we are to realizing quantum computing, but I am optimistic about how it can become relevant to us in our daily lives.
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Rolls Royce, one of the UK's leading engineering companies, is also bullish on this technology. He collaborates with Sussex researchers to develop machines that could help them design even better jet engines.
Powerful supercomputers are used to model airflow in simulations to test new aircraft engine designs.
A quantum computer could, in principle, track airflow with even greater precision and do it fast, according to Professor Leigh Lapworth, who leads quantum computing development for Rolls-Royce.
“Quantum computers could get calculations we can't do now and others that would take months or years. Being able to do them in days would transform our design systems and lead to even better engines.”
The technology could also be used to design drugs more quickly. accurately simulating their chemical reactions, a calculation too difficult for today's supercomputers. They could also provide more accurate systems for predicting the weather and projecting the impact of climate change.
Professor Hensinger explains that he had the idea to develop a quantum computer more than 20 years ago.
“People were rolling their eyes and saying, 'It's impossible.'”
“And when people tell me something can't be done, I love to try. So I've spent the last 20 years removing the barriers one by one to a point where a practical quantum computer can now be built."