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article imageQubits for quantum computers from ultracold molecules

By Tim Sandle     Aug 20, 2017 in Technology
Scientists have discovered that collections of ultracold molecules can retain the information stored in them for hundreds of times longer than comparable materials. Such clusters could serve as qubits for quantum computers.
There’s considerable interest in quantum computers from across most industrial sectors. The main aim is to develop computers that are much faster and this is based on quantum mechanics. The applications that these future devices could be used for range from finding drugs that can target specific cancers to valuing portfolio risks.
The new research comes from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as part of research to develop clusters that could function as quantum bits ('qubits'), which are the basic building blocks of quantum computers. Computers operate by manipulating bits that exist in one of two states: a 0 or a 1 (a binary system). Quantum computers, in contrast, will encode information as quantum bits. Qubits exist in superposition and they work together to act as both the quantum computer memory and as the processor. It is because a quantum computer can contain these multiple states simultaneously that such devices have the potential to be millions of times more powerful than even the most powerful supercomputer that is in current use.
Building a quantum computer isn’t easy and the developer has to control the environment very carefully. Controlling the environment is the basis of the new research. The basis of the ultracold molecules with the potential to work as qubits are molecules are made of sodium and potassium. When these are cooled to temperatures just a few ten-millionths of a degree above absolute zero (a temperature measured in hundreds of nanokelvins), they can be manipulated to create qubits that are able to ‘talk to each other’ to perform calculations.
The new approach is not just effective it is also straightforward to develop since it uses a cluster of very simple molecules made of just two atoms. According to Jee Woo Park: “this work demonstrates the first experimental step toward realizing this new platform, which is that quantum information can be stored in dipolar molecules for extended times.”
So far the work is a proof-of-principle study, where laboratory tests were conducted that involved simple molecules contained in a microscopic puff of gas. The molecules were trapped at the intersection of two laser beams and cooled to ultracold temperatures. The molecules were assessed for rotation, vibration, and the spin direction; the verification of these states showed the molecules to have the potential to be used a qubits and to perform thousands of quantum computations (or ‘gates’).
The research is published in the journal Science, under the title “Second-scale nuclear spin coherence time of ultracold 23 Na 40 K molecules.”
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