Quantum Computing, Here We Come! Scientists Entangle Ions Using Microwaves

Brad Chacos

For the Knights of the Round Table, the holy grail is, well, the holy grail. The holy grail for computer geeks is a little different, but perhaps just as legendary – quantum computing. While super performing PCs powered by quantum bits sound good in theory, achieving results in the real world is a lot harder than just talking about it. Fortunately, that doesn't stop scientists. A team of researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology have managed to entangle two ions using a small microwave device, which could be a key step in the quest for quantum computing.

Ever wondered what a microwave ion entangler looked like?

Ions have the potential to act as the fabled quantum bits, NIST's press release explains , but in order to do so, they need to be in an entangled state. When ions are in an entangled state, changes made to one ion affects the other ions it is entangled with. It's the key to quantum computing.

Scientists have entangled ions before, but it's always involved massive rigs and multiple lasers beams. The microwave entangler used by NIST researchers, on the other hand, is described as roughly desk-sized and ten times smaller than the typical laser array. A compact microwave setup is a much more feasible target for commercialization that a room-spanning laser rig, and the NIST researchers think they can cram the microwave technology into a box roughly the size of a desktop PC as time goes on.

"It's conceivable a modest-sized quantum computer could eventually look like a smart phone combined with a laser pointer-like device, while sophisticated machines might have an overall footprint comparable to a regular desktop PC," says NIST physicist Dietrich Leibfried, in the organization's press release.

NIST reports a 76 percent rate of successful entanglement with the microwave rig, which is above the 50 percent target number for quantum properties, but not quite as good as the best laser arrays out there, with can successfully entangle ions 99.3 percent of the time.

It's been an exciting couple of weeks on the quantum computing front; NIST's announcement comes just 13 days after a research team at Purdue University announced that they are able to induce electrons into a correlated state using atom-precise gallium arsenide crystals, magnetic fields and super-low temperatures.

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