Physicists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have transferred information between two "artificial atoms" by way of electronic vibrations on a microfabricated aluminum cable, demonstrating a new component for potential ultra-powerful quantum computers of the future. The setup resembles a miniature version of a cable-television transmission line, but with some powerful added features, including superconducting circuits with zero electrical resistance, and multi-tasking data bits that obey the unusual rules of quantum physics.
The resonant cable might someday be used in quantum computers, which would rely on quantum behavior to carry out certain functions, such as code-breaking and database searches, exponentially faster than today's most powerful computers. Moreover, the superconducting components in the NIST demonstration offer the possibility of being easier to manufacture and scale up to a practical size than many competing candidates, such as individual atoms, for storing and transporting data in quantum computers.
Unlike traditional electronic devices, which store information in the form of digital bits that each possess a value of either 0 or 1, each superconducting circuit acts as a quantum bit, or qubit, which can hold values of 0 and 1 at the same time. Qubits in this "superposition" of both values may allow many more calculations to be performed simultaneously than is possible with traditional digital bits, offering the possibility of faster and more powerful computing devices. The resonant section of cable shuttling the information between the two superconducting circuits is known to engineers as a "quantum bus," and it could transport data between two or more qubits.
The NIST work is featured on the cover of the Sept. 27 issue of Nature*. The scientists encoded information in one qubit, transferred this information as microwave energy to the resonant section of cable for a short storage time of 10 nanoseconds, and then successfully shuttled the information to a second qubit. For more details, see Digital Cable Goes Quantum: NIST Debuts Superconducting Quantum Computing Cable.