Aussies develop crystal 'quantum' computer

PAT PILCHER
Last updated 09:46 30/04/2012

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OPINION: Researchers at the University of Sydney on Thursday announced they have designed a tiny crystal that acts like a quantum computer.

The minute device is so powerful, the developers claim it would take a computer the size of the known universe to match it.

These are pretty bold claims and aside from potentially being great news for World of Warcraft fans, could signal the beginning of a workable form for quantum computing.

According to the researchers, the crystal itself is which is made up of just 300 atoms.

Whilst a PC made up of just 300 atoms would be pretty unworkable, quantum computing works in a way fundamentally different to a classic PC.

Because quantum computers are able to operate on a massively parallel basis they possess the potential to solve computational problems that are next to impossible for standard digital computers.

The Australian crystal computer uses a property of quantum mechanics called superposition, in which a quantum particle is able to exist in two distinctly separate states at the same time. This means the quantum particle (known as a qubit), can be solve two equations simultaneously.

As the number of qubits increase, the possible states increases exponentially, as does the available computational power available. While 2 qubits can operate in 4 states, 3 qubits can exist in 8 states and so on.

Because of this, the potential computing power of the 300-atom crystal should theoretically outstrip the capacity of a digital computer using silicon processors.

This presents some unique problems for researchers who believe that because quantum computing is so far out in front of digital computing and able to perform such massively complex computational tasks, it is next to impossible to check if a quantum computer is working accurately.

While a 300 atom super computer that'd easily fit into a cuff-link sounds like sci-fi fodder, desktop or laptop quantum computers are still a long way from being available at the corner PC store.

The tiny crystal also requires a massive amount of complex technology to run, including vacuum chambers, pumps and lasers; which can take up an entire lab.

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