Researchers Create World's First Programmable Quantum Photonic Chip

Brad Chacos

You know that game that mimes play, where they mimic your every action, pretending to be a mirror? Well, if we’re ever going to get down and dirty with some true quantum computing, scientists are probably going to have to teach photons to pull mime impressions en mass . A complex process called quantum entanglement makes it so any changes that happen to one particle happens to others as well; harnessing that power is the theoretical key to quantum computing. Now, researchers from the University of Bristol have created the world’s first fully programmable photon-entangling silica chip, which could be a major step towards true quantum processing.

The 70mm by 3mm chip uses several tiny channel guides and eight electrodes (as illustrated in the picture above) to move, manipulate, measure and entangle photons (i.e., particles of light). The electrodes can be configured to various settings, which produces different quantum states. It's basically a computer chip that pushes light rather than traditional data.

According to PhysOrg.com , experiments for each of those separate quantum states “would each ordinarily be carried out on an optical bench the size of a large dining table.” Creating a single device that is capable of running those multiple experiments –and squeezing it onto a small chip that could easily be fit into a standard desktop PC – is quite the accomplishment, indeed. Just ask Peter Shadbolt, the lead author of the study and a member of the University of Bristol Team that created the programmable quantum chip.

"It isn't ideal if your quantum computer can only perform a single specific task", he told PhysOrg.com. "We would prefer to have a reconfigurable device which can perform a broad variety of tasks, much like our desktop PCs today—this reconfigurable ability is what we have now demonstrated. This device is approximately ten times more complex than previous experiments using this technology. It's exciting because we can perform many different experiments in a very straightforward way, using a single reconfigurable chip."

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