First Quantum Network Prototype


“One day, this might not only make it possible to communicate quantum information over very large distances, but might enable an entire quantum Internet.” Dr. Stephan Ritter, leader the experimental team from Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (MPQ).

That one day is likely years away, but for now there’s been a step forward towards a quantum internet.  A team at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (MPQ) demonstrated the transfer of an atomic quantum state and the creation of entanglement between two identical nodes in separate laboratories.

This is a very basic prototype of a quantum network based on single atoms embedded in optical cavities.  In layman’s terms, they were able to get one atom to exhibit the same quantum states as another.  They did this by copying the data from the first atom to a photon (a light “particle”), transmitting that photon through a cable to the second atom in another room, and copying the data to the second atom.  (There was something else going on here called entanglement, that is way cool and beyond the scope of this blog.)

Now the data is not somebody’s phone number or a text message.  It copied the quantum state, which is used to determine a qubit.  What is that?

“A qubit (quantum bit) is a representation of a particle state, such as the spin direction of an electron or the polarization orientation of a photon.  A qubit is the quantum equivalent of a bit in ordinary computing.

But where a bit exists in one of two states (1 or 0), a qubit can exist in an arbitrary combination of both states. Physicists describe this as a coherent superposition of two states. This superposition is often represented by a point on a sphere with values 0 and 1 at the sphere poles.”

~ Misha Brodsky, Photon Entanglement over the Fiber-Optic Network, AT&T Labs Research, January 10, 2011.

Disclaimer:  Don’t expect HP, Dell, Apple, or any other computer manufacturer to replace this year’s models with quantum computers.  Besides being in early development, quantum computations are not a wholesale replacement of today’s technology.  Some very basic quantum computers have been developed and they do a few things better — a whole lot better — than the average computer: code-breaking, integer factorization, and simulation of quantum mechanics that would be used in chemistry and nanotechnology.

My guess is that, if these laboratory breakthroughs can be duplicated and scaled up in manufacturing, we may see quantum coprocessors integrated into standard computers or mobile devices.  That way, they would handle the specific tasks for which they are best suited.

Network image courtesy Andreas Neuzner, Max Planck Institute of  Quantum Optics.  For more information, see their article in Nature.  Qubit image courtesy AT&T Labs Research.

See the Avar-Tek Event short story Death Has No Shadow for a quantum computer named Prometheus.

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