A Year Ago: Scientists move closer to quantum computing

First published: Fri, 21 Jan 2000 17:26:00 GMT

Colorado institute increases control over atoms

Scientists at National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Colorado have moved a step closer to developing the technology that would make quantum computers possible.

Quantum computers would, in theory at least, make use of the weird and paradoxical world of quantum mechanics in order to perform incredible numbers of calculations simultaneously. According to some, unthinkable computing power and speed may not be far away if the quantum world can be harnessed.

Boffins at the NIST have succeeded in moving atoms into and out of quantum states with far more precision than has been achieved in the past. Being able to control particles in a quantum environment makes it more likely that some sort of calculating device using quantum principles could actually be constructed.

If they are really possible, quantum computers would revolutionise many fields of technology. Encryption that is unbreakable by modern standards, for example, could be broken in a second with a quantum computer.

Quantum mechanics holds that at the sub-atomic level it is possible for particles to simultaneously exist in two places and have two energy states at the same time.

Others have come up with theoretical designs for quantum computers, including experts at the Weismann institute in Israel, where the GSM encryption standard was cracked in December.

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