The New York Times
Saturday, September 29, 2012
Australians Surge in Quest to Build Quantum Computer
By JOHN MARKOFF
Competing teams of Australian scientists have given that country a significant lead in an increasingly intense international competition to build a working quantum computer.
In an article that appeared on Thursday in the journal Nature, a team of Australian and British scientists, led from the University of New South Wales, reported that they had successfully constructed one of the basic building blocks of modern quantum computing by relying on manufacturing techniques now used by the modern semiconductor industry.
Quantum computing will potentially lead to a new generation of supercomputers that are not intended to replace today’s machines but will instead open new computing vistas, from drug and material design to code breaking, by offering speed to address a new class of problems.
“We are used to designing cars and airplanes with computers,” said Andrew Dzurak, a physicist who is director of the Australian National Fabrication Facility and lead researcher on the latest advance. “Imagine if you could start building your molecule or your material on a computer and then completely simulate its behavior.”
The basic building blocks of quantum computers are quantum bits, or “qubits.” Unlike today’s digital computers, which process information in a binary fashion based on logic states of “on” and “off,” a qubit can for brief periods represent multiple states simultaneously. Potentially, this means it is possible to tackle vast new problems by performing parallel computations using a relatively small set of qubits — perhaps as few as several hundred. The advance by Dr. Dzurak’s team involves placing a single electron — embedded in a silicon chip — in a “quantum state,” and then repeatedly measuring the state.