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MSU Researchers Explore Future of Quantum Computing

Just when “classical computing” – that’s the technology you are using to view this article right now – seems to be reaching the limits of what can be put on a chip, researchers at Michigan State University are focusing on quantum computers, which have the potential to be many orders of magnitude more powerful than existing computers.

Even for an industry as relatively new as computing, quantum computing is new territory. Only recently has a commercial quantum computer ever been offered for sale. (Price tag: $10 million.) But it is clearly a transformative technology, offering great potential for advances in decryption, unbreakable quantum encryption, and the protection of sensitive data , as well as in answering fundamental scientific questions.

At Michigan State University’s Institute for Quantum Sciences, a group of physicists, mathematicians, and chemists are exploring the fundamental physical characteristics of quantum systems; that is, how matter and radiation interact at the atomic and subatomic level and how those properties can be harnessed, using sophisticated technology and mathematical algorithms to radically accelerate the processing speed of computers. In other words, quantum computers are very, very fast, especially at certain kinds of computations.

Quantum computing transcends the limits of classical computing’s 1s and 0s, and leaves the familiar transistors and “bits” of information behind. Instead, this is a world of powerful “qubits.” The qubit or “quantum bit” carries quantum information. Qubits are implemented with physical atoms, ions, photons or electrons, which – along with the controlling devices – function together as computer processor and memory. Building qubits, a process rooted in quantum mechanics, requires expertise in quantum optics, condensed matter physics and chemistry, and nanoscience.

Michigan State University’s current quantum computing research is focused on the problem of building qubits, bringing not just its renowned knowledge base in physics and mathematics to the challenge, but also leveraging established collaborative relationships in the field, notably with related programs at Princeton, Yale, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany and the Discovery Research Institute at RIKEN in Japan.

Physicists Mark Dykman, director of Michigan State University’s Institute for Quantum Sciences, and Brage Golding, with whom the concept of the institute was developed, are exploring methods of manipulating qubits and reading out what a quantum computer has produced. Working with colleagues at Michigan State Universities and other universities, they are also studying how to make a qubit that meets the harsh requirements of condensed matter systems, in which atoms are densely packed and strongly interact with each other.

The institute has made significant and highly visible contributions to quantum computing, which have been recognized by the international scientific community. It has been instrumental in creating campus-wide involvement in the study of quantum computing, the interdisciplinary area at the very frontier of modern science and technology. For more information about the Institute for Quantum Computing at Michigan State University, visit http://www.pa.msu.edu/iqs/ .

Photo: A replica of the first point-contact transistor in Bell labs, 1947.

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