Future Computers May Go Subatomic

Posted May 9th, 2011 at 7:19 pm (UTC-4)
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Imagine the computer of the future – which would process complicated sets of data instantly while also being capable of storing an almost-infinite amount of information.

Physicists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany have taken a significant step toward making that a reality.

By reducing standard computer data down to the subatomic level, the scientists were able to store a bit of the information in just a single atom.   This accomplishment proved that quantum information can also be exchanged between single atoms and photons in a controlled way.  Prior to this finding the ability to store quantum information could only be accomplished with groups of thousands of atoms.

To satisfy our insatiable desire for more dynamic computers, manufacturers have been outdoing each other for years by producing devices that are faster and faster with increasing storage capabilities.

To accommodate faster and more powerful computers, the electronic components stored on its integrated circuits keep getting smaller.  Now, especially given the advances made by those German scientists, it won’t be long before the circuits on a microprocessor are measured on an atomic scale.

Some scientists say the next step in building that fast and powerful computer will be with what has been called quantum computers.

Quantum computers harness the power of atoms and molecules to perform memory and processing tasks and are said to have the potential to perform certain calculations significantly faster than any silicon-based computer.

In their experiments, the German researchers were able write this information into a rubidium atom and read it out again after a certain storage time.  Scientists are hopeful that this recent innovation will  bring practical quantum computing closer to reality and that this technique could be used in principle to design powerful quantum computers and to network them with each other across large distances.

Want to learn more about quantum computers? Watch this cute but helpful and instructive animated video, “Quantum Computing 101” from the Institute of Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo, Canada.

Here’s where you can read more about the recent findings made by the scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics.

I’d like to know what you think about quantum computers and the potential they offer to those of us who are seeking faster and more powerful computers.  How long do you think it will take scientists and researchers to make this a practical reality?

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

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