A computer chip based on the esoteric science of quantum mechanics has been created by researchers at the University of Michigan. The chip might well pave the way for a new generation of supercomputers.
Employing the same semiconductor-fabrication techniques used to create common computer chips, the Michigan team was able to trap a single atom within an integrated chip and control it using electrical signals.
Electrically charged atoms (ions) for such quantum computers are stored in traps in order to isolate the qubits, a process that is essential for the system to work.
The challenge is that current ion traps can hold only a few atoms, or qubits, and are not easily scaled, making it difficult to create a quantum chip that can store thousands or more atomic ions. A string of such atoms, in theory, could store thousands of bits of information.
In the chip created at Michigan, which is the size of a postage stamp, the ion is confined in a trap while electric fields are applied. Laser light puts a spin on the ion’s free electron, enabling it to flip it between the one or zero quantum states.
The spin of the electron dictates the value of the qubit. For example, an up-spin can represent a one, or a down-spin can represent a zero — or the qubit can occupy both states simultaneously.