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New Atom And Photon 'Switch' May Bring Quantum Computers Closer to Reality

Update Date: Apr 10, 2014 10:20 AM EDT

Researchers have discovered a new method of trapping rubidium atoms in a lattice of light. With the new technique, researchers were able to couple a lone atom of rubidium, a metal with a single photon -a light particle. 

The coupling allowed both the atom and photon to switch the quantum state of the other particle, ultimately providing a mechanism through which quantum-level computing operations would take place.

The finding, according to researchers could bring super-fast quantum computers closer to reality.

"This is a major advance of this system," said Vladan Vuletic, a professor in MIT's Department of Physics and Research Laboratory for Electronics (RLE) in the press release. "We have demonstrated basically an atom can switch the phase of a photon. And the photon can switch the phase of an atom."

Theoretically scientists can replicate the experiment to create and bundle several "switches" and later coupling them to exchange information. Each formed "switch" is around 1,000 times thinner than a human hair. 

"The idea is to combine different things that have different strengths and weaknesses in such a way to generate something new," Vuletic said. "This is an advance in technology. Of course, whether this will be the technology remains to be seen."

Few particles in superposition can contain more information than particles at classical states allowing faster computing, researchers said.

"For me what is still amazing, after working in this for 20 years," Vuletic said in the press release adding, "is that we can hold onto a single atom, we can see it, we can move it around, we can prepare quantum superpositions of atoms, we can detect them one by one."

The study was published in the journal Nature.

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