Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo

 

Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

Quantum computing holds great promise as a way to factor huge numbers, potentially breaking ultra-secure cryptographic codes unbreakable by traditional computers. However, this promise has historically been tempered by practical concerns: quantum computers rely on particles and molecules that are extremely sensitive to the environment; therefore, any such system only works for milliseconds, and the more particles and ions are added to a system, the quicker its ability fades.

But now researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have demonstrated, for the first time, that the lifetime of quantum-computing bits, known as qubits, can be extended using simple operations. In their experiment, they showed that by applying specially timed magnetic pulses to qubits, made of beryllium ions, they could prolong the life of the quantum bits from about one millisecond to hundreds of milliseconds. The work is described in this week’s Nature.

“The worst thing about quantum information from an experimental perspective,” says Michael Biercuk, a researcher at NIST, “is that even if you do nothing to your qubit, just its interaction with the environment does something to it.” Qubits, he explains, are dependent on the quantum magic of superposition, in which certain properties of a quantum system exist in two or more distinct states at once. Superposition is a fleeting thing, and it quickly starts to break down, or decohere, due to noise such as random electrical fluctuations in the environment, says Biercuk. But what Biercuk and his colleagues John Bollinger and Herman Uys have done is “mitigate the effects of decoherence.”

This means that the researchers have bought some time to do more complex experiments, such as modeling quantum states of large molecules, says Biercuk. It also means that they could add more qubits to the system, essentially providing more computational horsepower, and still have enough time to perform some experiments. Additionally, notes Biercuk, the team showed that it’s possible to use the approach for different types of quantum-computing systems, such as those that are built in a semiconducting material like silicon. In other words, the researchers have provided a general solution to a problem that plagues all researchers who work on quantum computers.

2 comments. Share your thoughts »

Credit: NIST

Tagged: Computing, physics, quantum computing, computation, information technology, quantum computer, quantum information

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives

Close

Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me
×

A Place of Inspiration

Understand the technologies that are changing business and driving the new global economy.

September 23-25, 2014
Register »