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Quantum computing breakthrough described as ‘the Holy Grail of science’

New research part-supported by the EU-funded IQIT project has produced the first-ever industrial blueprint for a large-scale quantum computer that could lead to an entirely new and exciting technological revolution.

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Until now, quantum computing has had just a fraction of the processing power that it is theoretically capable of producing and this has hindered the advancement of a possible ‘quantum revolution’. Now though, an international team of researchers, led from the Ion Quantum Technology Group at Sussex University, in the UK, believe they have finally found the way to overcome the technical problems that have thus far prevented the development of more powerful machines. The team, which has published its findings in the journal ‘Science Advances’, are now building a prototype and estimate that a full-scale, fully-functional quantum computer could be ready to go in about a decade. The device would be many millions of times faster than the best currently available computer and would work by utilising the ability to manipulate effects in customised systems and materials – in effect, harnessing the properties of the ‘very small’ at the atomic level. ‘It is the Holy Grail of science, really, to build a quantum computer,’ commented Prof Winfried Hensinger, who has been leading the research. ‘We are now publishing the actual nuts-and-bolts construction plan for a large-scale quantum computer.’ Quantum computing would unleash a level of processing power that could transform life in the twenty-first century, allowing for the development of new medicines, the construction of communication devices with superior performance capabilities, and providing new tools to help humanity solve the many still-unexplained mysteries of the universe. ‘Life will change completely,’ said Prof Hensinger. ‘... this is really, really exciting... it’s probably one of the most exciting times to be in this field.’ The main technical restraint holding quantum computing back is the fact that existing quantum computers require lasers focused on individual atoms, and the larger the computer, the more lasers are required, which then increases the chance of something going wrong. Prof Hensinger and his team used a different technique to monitor the atoms, which involved a microwave field and electricity in an ‘ion-trap’ device. ‘Within two years we think we will have completed a prototype that incorporates all of the technology we state in this blueprint [published in ‘Science Advances’],’ explained Hensinger. ‘At the same time we are looking for an industry partner so we can really build a large-scale device that basically fills a building.’ The team estimates that the final cost of constructing and testing the prototype could be up to EUR 116 million. The IQIT consortium, that included the University of Sussex but was coordinated at the University of Siegen in Germany, was a four-year project that aimed to develop novel methods for up-scaling quantum physical devices. Although the project ended in March 2015, it acted as an important pillar of support for the design of the ground-breaking quantum blueprint reached by Prof Hensinger and his team. Advancing the quantum computing revolution continues to be a major EU ambition, with policymakers understanding that quantum breakthroughs have the capacity to ensure Europe’s continued place as a global scientific leader. Overall, the field has received up to EUR 550 million in EU research funding and as this latest development highlights, it could indeed amount to money very, very well spent. For more information, please see: project website Ion Quantum Technology Group webpage



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