MIT scientists stunned by scalable quantum computer

A team of researchers from MIT has developed one of the first scalable quantum computers, raising questions about the long-term viability of encryption as a security tool.

A team of scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and The University of Innsbruck in Austria has made a huge breakthrough in the field of quantum engineering. According to a report from Computing, researchers have pieced together the first five quantum bits of a full-scale quantum computer.

The quantum bits, or qubits, were capable of carrying out simple mathematical equations. Researchers are particularly interested in the computer’s ability to carry out factoring problems, which could cause a huge paradigm shift in current security practices that rely on encryption to protect sensitive information like credit card and account numbers.

Scientists were able to prove that their quantum computer design works by solving Shor’s algorithm, written by MIT Morss Professor of Applied Mathematics Peter Shor. The algorithm can calculate all of the prime factors of a number with greater efficiency than a normal computer.

Scientists say that quantum computing is now much more a matter of engineering than it is a basic physical question. According to Isaac Chuang, a professor of physics, electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, the research team was able to keep a quantum system stable by keeping atoms in place using an ion trap. As electrons were removed from the atoms, they gained a charge, which held them in place inside of an electric field.

The interactions between the charged atoms being held in place allow computer scientists to perform logic gates, just like inside of a traditional computer. This allows researchers to identify the primitives in the Shor factoring algorithm. The real breakthrough, however, is that the system laid out in the recent study is scalable – Chuang says the logic gates will work on any system, no matter how big.

“It might still cost an enormous amount of money to build – you won’t be building a quantum computer and putting it on your desktop anytime soon – but now it’s much more an engineering effort, and not a basic physics question,” said Chuang.

A press release from MIT News describing the recent breakthrough can be found here.

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