Thursday

Thursday 8/08/2002A hundred years ago today, Paul Dirac was born. A physicist arguably on the same plane as Einstein -- but painfully shy and averse to publicity -- his contributions to 20th century science were enormous.

Thursday 8/08/2002

A hundred years ago today, Paul Dirac was born. A physicist arguably on the same plane as Einstein -- but painfully shy and averse to publicity -- his contributions to 20th century science were enormous. Most famously, he predicted the existence of anti-matter and described the nature of electron spin, two aspects of his work in quantum physics. His Nobel prize -- shared with cat-fancier Erwin Shrodinger -- came his way at 31, the year after he'd been appointed Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge. All through his life he continued working on some of the great problems in physics, and it's arguable that nobody has contributed as much to the field. This week, though, shows that his ideas still have their finest hour ahead of them. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin in Madison have published details of how they plan to build a quantum computer -- built out of single-electron devices -- using standard silicon chip construction techniques. This depends on the spin of those single electrons being modified -- spintronics, in other words, which until now has been a strictly lab-based technology needing many white coats per working device. So far, spintronic systems have been limited to one or two working examples: these guys say that a quantum computer with a million devices is perfectly possible with today's tools. This could be the first quantum computer that can do mathematics that can't be done any other way, according to the researchers. It's a good birthday present.

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