Australian scientists have made a major breakthrough in the study of quantum mechanics by successfully reading the spin of a single electron on a silicon wafer. From the University of New South Wales:
A team led by UNSW engineers and physicists has achieved a breakthrough that brings a super-fast quantum computer a step closer to reality by developing a “single electron reader” – a key building block in creating a silicon-based quantum machine.
Quantum computers promise exponential increases in processing speed over today’s computers through their use of the “spin”, or magnetic orientation, of individual electrons to represent data in their calculations.
In order to employ electron spin, the quantum computer needs both a way of changing the spin state (the “write” function) and of measuring that change (the “read” function) to form a qubit – the equivalent of the bits in a conventional computer.
Quantum computers, in contrast to those you use every day, seek to harness the laws of quantum mechanics to speed up calculations. These still-experimental machines hold out the promise of doing in seconds certain tasks that would take conventional computers years to complete. Quantum computing is a relatively new field, however, and only rudimentary machines have been built so far. Part of the problem with building large quantum computers is that large quantum systems do not hold information for long; they rapidly “decohere,” in the parlance of quantum mechanics.
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