Science

Scientists hail quantum computing breakthrough

The new computers could do calculations current machines would take billions of years to complete.

Scientists say they have achieved a breakthrough in creating a new breed of computer which could do calculations that would take current supercomputers billions of years to carry out.

The team at the University of Sussex hope the quantum computers could help with solving some of humanity’s greatest problems, such as finding new cures for diseases including dementia, creating new pharmaceuticals and more efficient fertilisers, as well as helping to create powerful tools for the financial sector.

Professor Winfried Hensinger explained that quantum computers have so far been restricted to the laboratory because they are extremely sensitive to environmental “noise” and could fail due to factors including fluctuations in voltage and electromagnetic fields from other electronic equipment.

A University of Sussex spokeswoman said: “Small-scale quantum computers currently in existence only contain a handful of quantum bits – components of quantum computers that store information and can exist in multiple states, also referred to as qubits.

“As such, current quantum computers are small enough to be operated in a highly controlled environment inside a specialised laboratory.

“However, such machines do not have the processing power required to solve complex problems because of the limited number of qubits.”

To solve the issue of “environmental noise”, the team have worked with theoretical scientist Dr Florian Mintert and colleagues from Imperial College London to make use of quantum physics and microwave technology – similar to that used in mobile phones – to help insulate the new computers.

Prof Hensinger, head of the Ion Quantum Technology Group at the University of Sussex – which last year unveiled the first blueprint for a large-scale quantum computer – said: “With this advance we have made another practical step towards constructing quantum computers that can host millions of qubits.

“Such machines are capable of solving certain problems that even the fastest supercomputer may take billions of years to calculate and be of great benefit to humanity.

“They may be able to help us create new pharmaceuticals, find new cures for diseases such as dementia, create powerful tools for the financial sector, be of benefit to agriculture, through more efficient fertiliser production, among many other applications.

“We are only starting to understand the tremendous potential of these machines.”

Prof Hensinger’s group is now using the new technique as they put the final touches to a powerful quantum computer prototype that is currently in their laboratory at the University of Sussex.

He added: “It’s now time to translate academic achievements into the construction of practical machines.

“We’re in a fantastic position to do this at Sussex and my team is working round the clock to make large-scale quantum computing a future reality.”

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