The promise of quantum computers is breathtaking.
Using the laws of quantum physics applied to atoms and photons – elementary quantum particles of matter and light respectively - for their computations, they could potentially solve problems which a conventional silicon-based computer would take the lifetime of the universe to crack. Quantum computers offer new opportunities for drug development, space exploration, security encryption and many other fields.
Oxford is in the forefront of the global quantum computing race, helping set record standards for the performance of the components from which such computers are built, such as quantum memories, quantum logic operations and integrated quantum photonic networks. In 2014, the University was appointed to lead the UK’s Networked Quantum Information Technology hub (NQIT), working with nearly 30 industrial and academic partners to build the world’s first prototype of a small quantum processor – the Q20:20.
The crucial breakthroughs keep coming. An Oxford team has now made the world’s best demonstration of a quantum ‘logic gate’ allowing the transfer of information between a ‘memory qubit’ (an ion storing information) and an ‘interface qubit’ (an ion linking the computer together). The Oxford researchers have proved such a logic gate is possible with the high-level precision vital to building a quantum computer.
A fully-functioning Q20:20 is still a few years in the future, but the potential benefits are enormous. NQIT Director and Oxford Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation Professor Ian Walmsley says: 'Quantum technologies will deliver novel sensors, secure communications and advanced computing that are impossible with conventional technologies. This radical reconfiguration of the information processing landscape will also deliver benefits to society, and to the economy, through highly skilled and knowledgeable graduate students and researchers who work at the cutting edge of the field and are able to translate quantum science into applications through new technologies.'
How do quantum physicists affect industry?