NIST scientists claims ‘universal’ quantum information processor

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Physicists at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have demonstrated the first 'universal' programmable quantum information processor. The researchers claim the device can run any program allowed by quantum mechanics using two quantum bits (qubits) of information.

"This is the first time anyone has demonstrated a programmable quantum processor for more than one qubit," says NIST postdoctoral researcher David Hanneke, first author of the paper. "It's a step toward the big goal of doing calculations with lots and lots of qubits. The idea is you'd have lots of these processors, and you'd link them together." The NIST processor stores binary information (1s and 0s) in two beryllium ions held in an electromagnetic trap and manipulated with ultraviolet lasers. Scientists can manipulate the states of each beryllium qubit, including placing the ions in a 'superposition' of 1 and 0 values at the same time, a significant potential advantage of information processing in the quantum world. They can also 'entangle' the two qubits. According to NIST, the team performed 160 different processing routines on the two qubits. It notes that, although there are an infinite number of possible two qubit programs, this set of 160 is large and diverse enough to represent them fairly, making the processor 'universal'. In addition to its possible use as a module of a quantum computer, the new processor might also be used as a miniature simulator for interactions in any quantum system that employs two energy levels. Large quantum simulators could, for example, help such phenomena as high temperature superconductivity.