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NIST Quantum Computing Research Among Top Stories of 2009

For Immediate Release: January 12, 2010

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Contact: Michael Baum
301-975-2763

Three science magazines have selected quantum computing research by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) as top stories of 2009. All the research was performed by physicist David Wineland’s group at NIST’s campus in Boulder, Colo. The group, which previously demonstrated many components needed for quantum computing with electrically charged atoms (ions), combined them to make new experimental advances described in three major papers published in 2009.

Physics World, the news magazine of the Institute of Physics in the United Kingdom, selected one of these papers as the most significant breakthrough of 2009. The cited NIST work demonstrated sustained, reliable information-processing operations with ions (see “NIST Demonstrates Sustained Quantum Processing in Step Toward Building Quantum Computers”). The achievement raises prospects for scaling up ion trapping technology to build a practical quantum computer, which could harness the unusual rules of the submicroscopic world of quantum physics to solve some problems that are intractable with today’s technology. Physics World’s top breakthroughs of 2009 are described at “Physics World’s 2009 wrap-up” (www.iop.org/News/news_38580.html) and “The first complete ’quantum computer’” (http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/41270).

Science News selected NIST’s demonstration of a universal, programmable quantum processor (“NIST Demonstrates ‘Universal’ Programmable Quantum Processor for Quantum Computers”) as the leading story of 2009 in the matter and energy category. The experimental processor used two ions to perform 160 randomly chosen programs. The magazine also selected the Wineland group’s third paper as another top story in the same category. This work linked the vibrations of two separated ion pairs to demonstrate the curious quantum property of “entanglement” in a mechanical system similar to those in the large-scale everyday world (“NIST Physicists Demonstrate Quantum Entanglement in Mechanical System”). The magazine’s summary of the top news of 2009 can be found at “ 2009 Science News of the Year: Matter & Energy” (www.sciencenews.org/view/feature/id/50947/title/2009_Science_News_of_the_Year_Matter_%2B_Energy) and www.sciencenews.org/view/feature/id/50907/title/2009_Science_News_of_the_Year.

Discover magazine named the NIST demonstration of entanglement in a mechanical system as number 40 of the 100 top stories of 2009. “The experiment will help scientists explore why small objects follow the weird rules of quantum mechanics but large ones do not—one of the greatest enigmas in physics,” the magazine noted.