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IBM reveals progress toward quantum computer


Feb. 29, 2012—IBM Research, Yorktown Heights, N.Y., yesterday revealed why scientists there have been walking around of late with a quantum spring in their step. IBM scientists have managed to reduce errors in elementary computations and retain the integrity of quantum mechanical properties in qubits—the basic units of data in quantum computing, according to a company news release.

The superconducting qubits used by the IBM researchers were made via microfabrication techniques established for silicon technology. That, says IBM, provides the potential to scale up manufacturing to "thousands or millions of qubits."

Said IBM scientist Matthias Steffen, manager of the IBM Research team developing quantum computing systems: "The quantum computing work we are doing shows it is no longer just a brute force physics experiment. It's time to start creating systems based on this science that will take computing to a new frontier."

To get there, however, scientists had to devise a way to control or remove quantum decoherence, which is the creation of errors in calculations caused by interference from heat, electromagnetic radiation and materials defects, according to the IBM news release.

"To deal with this problem," the news release explained, "scientists have been experimenting for years to discover ways of reducing the number of errors, and of lengthening the time periods over which the qubits retain their quantum mechanical properties. When this time is sufficiently long, error correction schemes become effective making it possible to perform long and complex calculations."

Using a 3-D superconducting qubit, IBM researchers have managed to extend the length of time qubits retain their quantum states to 100 microseconds. That's up to four times longer than previous attempts, and more importantly "reaches just past the minimum threshold to enable effective error correction schemes."

The news comes on the heels of quantum computing breakthroughs at the University of New South Whales, Sydney, Australia. For more about quantum computing and how it works, see "Australian researchers produce 'perfect' single-atom transistor."