A quantum computer is a computation device that makes direct use of quantum mechanical phenomena, such as superposition and entanglement, to perform operations on data. Quantum computers are different from digital computers based on transistors. Whereas digital computers require data to be encoded into binary digits (bits), quantum computation uses quantum properties to represent data and perform operations on these data. A theoretical model is the quantum Turing machine, also known as the universal quantum computer.

The quantum computer was first proposed in 1985 by British physicist David Deutsch. And it defies common sense.

The computer on your desk obeys the laws of classical physics, the physics of everyday life. But a quantum computer seeks to exploit the physics associated with very small particles, such as atoms. A classical computer stores “bits” of information in things like transistors, and each bit has a value of either 0 or 1. Quantum computers aren't limited to two states; they encode information as quantum bits, or qubits, which can exist in superposition. These are represented by some sort of quantum system, such as the spin of an atom’s nucleus. An “up” spin indicates a 1, for instance, and a “down” spin indicates a 0.

If you build a large enough quantum computer, it’s exponentially faster than anything in the classical world. It would be fast enough to, instantly break the encryption algorithms that protect communication and electronic commerce on today’s internet.

This superposition of qubits is what gives quantum computers their inherent parallelism. According to physicist David Deutsch, this parallelism allows a quantum computer to work on a million computations at once, while your desktop PC works on one.

A 30-qubit quantum computer would equal the processing power of a conventional computer that could run at 10 teraflops (trillions of floating-point operations per second). Today's typical desktop computers run at speeds measured in gigaflops (billions of floating-point operations per second).

Quantum computers also utilize another aspect of quantum mechanics known as entanglement. One problem with the idea of quantum computers is that if you try to look at the subatomic particles, you could bump them, and thereby change their value.

Entanglement provides a potential answer. In quantum physics, if you apply an outside force to two atoms, it can cause them to become entangled, and the second atom can take on the properties of the first atom. So if left alone, an atom will spin in all directions. The instant it is disturbed it chooses one spin, or one value; and at the same time, the second entangled atom will choose an opposite spin, or value. This allows scientists to know the value of the qubits without actually looking at them.

Qubits must be completely isolated from the classical world. If you interact with one, it collapses into a single state i.e., it changes into just an ordinary bit. The challenge is to find a way of connecting up lots of qubits without breaking them.

Large-scale quantum computers will be able to solve certain problems much faster than any classical computer by using the best currently known algorithms, like integer factorization using Shor's algorithm or the simulation of quantum many-body systems. There exist quantum algorithms, such as Simon's algorithm, which run faster than any possible probabilistic classical algorithm.

The quantum computer is the holy grail of tech research. The idea is to build a machine that uses the mind-bending properties of very small particles to perform calculations that are well beyond the capabilities of machines here in the world of classical physics. But it’s still not completely clear that a true quantum computer can actually be built.

Los Alamos and MIT researchers managed to spread a single qubit across three nuclear spins in each molecule of a liquid solution of alanine (an amino acid used to analyze quantum state decay) or trichloroethylene (a chlorinated hydrocarbon used for quantum error correction) molecules. Spreading out the qubit made it harder to corrupt, allowing researchers to use entanglement to study interactions between states as an indirect method for analyzing the quantum information.

scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory announced the development of a 7-qubit quantum computer within a single drop of liquid. The quantum computer uses nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) to manipulate particles in the atomic nuclei of molecules of trans-crotonic acid, a simple fluid consisting of molecules made up of six hydrogen and four carbon atoms. The NMR is used to apply electromagnetic pulses, which force the particles to line up. These particles in positions parallel or counter to the magnetic field allow the quantum computer to mimic the information-encoding of bits in digital computers.

Scientists from IBM and Stanford University successfully demonstrated Shor's Algorithm on a quantum computer. Shor's Algorithm is a method for finding the prime factors of numbers (which plays an intrinsic role in cryptography). They used a 7-qubit computer to find the factors of 15. The computer correctly deduced that the prime factors were 3 and 5.

The Institute of Quantum Optics and Quantum Information at the University of Innsbruck announced that scientists had created the first qubyte, or series of 8 qubits, using ion traps.

While Scientists in Waterloo and Massachusetts devised methods for quantum control on a 12-qubit system. Quantum control becomes more complex as systems employ more qubits.

Canadian startup company D-Wave demonstrated a 16-qubit quantum computer. The computer solved a sudoku puzzle and other pattern matching problems. The company claims it will produce practical systems by 2008. Skeptics believe practical quantum computers are still decades away, that the system D-Wave has created isn't scaleable, and that many of the claims on D-Wave's Web site are simply impossible (or at least impossible to know for certain given our understanding of quantum mechanics). If functional quantum computers can be built, they will be valuable in factoring large numbers, and therefore extremely useful for decoding and encoding secret information.

Although quantum computing is still in its infancy, experiments have been carried out in which quantum computational operations were executed on a very small number of qubits (quantum bits). Both practical and theoretical research continues, and many national government and military funding agencies support quantum computing research to develop quantum computers for both civilian and national security purposes, such as cryptanalysis.While many skeptics believe quantum computers are about 20 or 30 years away. Real world companies like D-wave have a 128 qubit computer system that has a asking price of $10,000,000.

While University of New South Wales, claim to have perfected a single atom transistor. The single-atom transistor does has a limitation. It must be kept very cold, at least as cold as liquid nitrogen, or minus 391 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 196 Celsius). The single-atom transistor could lead the way to building a quantum computer that works by controlling the electrons and thereby the quantum information, or qubits. And Scientists from Oxford University have made a significant step towards an ultrafast quantum computer by successfully generating 10 billion bits of quantum entanglement in silicon. This will allow the possibility of storing data for long complex sequences or even miniaturization of existing data streams to a small area. In each technical breakthrough, it seems like the components for the ultimate parallel processor will be assembled soonish. The practical applications for data decrypting or fast simulations for weather and biological uses will revolutionize those industries, it will probably be a long long while for the idea of a personnel quantum computer in every home...

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