In 1971, 2,300 transistors could be packed onto an Intel computer chip. Instead of relying on a binary bit, these computers will have qubits—quantum bits—as their base unit. But Moore’s law is running into physical limits—“quantum limits,” Del Maestro says. A quantum computer, on the other hand, has a unique way of sorting through possible solutions and can have an answer in a matter of minutes! It can “drive the next technological age,” says Adrian Del Maestro. Last year, that count had risen to over 5.5 billion transistors on a commercially available chip. Left: spatial entanglement where atoms in two separated regions share quantum information. With his new support from the NSF, Del Maestro and his students will spend the next five years exploring the mathematical foundations of entanglement in quantum liquids and ultracold atomic gases. The first step in building a quantum computer is figuring out how traditional computers work. And it gets weirder. At this low temperature the atoms form a strange puddle called a “superfluid” where the puddle is really a pile of entangled atoms all sharing a superposition. A traditional computer relies on bits. Until last spring, a number of prominent physicists would have said: probably yes. “Entanglement is the fundamental property of quantum mechanics,” he says. Here is how to build one. Instead of being the purview of quasi-philosophical speculations, quantum entanglement (that now can be easily created in a modern laboratory) may soon be used in the macro-world of human society—as a tool for information processing, secure communication, and computers many millions of times faster than today’s fastest. Two different ways in which atoms can be quantum entangled. “Instead of looking at that ‘zero or one?’ question as a problem, maybe we can rethink computation as a way to use that uncertainty—to use entanglement as a resource,” he says. It’s what’s called ‘topological’. They’ll be developing algorithms on conventional supercomputers—including processors on the Vermont Advanced Computing Core at UVM—that seek answers to questions like: how much entanglement can be extracted from a superfluid—the wildly complex fuel of a quantum computer—and transferred to a more-orderly register of qubits, say a lattice of electrons? “This could be the fuel for a quantum computer,” Del Maestro says. In an experiment in the Netherlands, reported last fall in Nature, scientists entangled electrons and then sent them in opposite directions for almost a mile. A very large string of ones and zeros is the foundation of all the codes that make a computer work. But is all this entanglement—what physicists call “many-body” entanglement—just like a fluffy toy bunny at the carnival—very enticing but ultimately useless? Right: particle entanglement for identical atoms (colored here for clarity) due to quantum statistics and interactions. In essence, a qubit can store and consider multiple possibilities simultaneously—which, in theory, could exponentially increase the speed of a computer. “This CAREER project is learning how to use that information.”. “So that's a problem,” Del Maestro says. Now imagine a bunch of, say, atoms of helium cooled to near absolute zero. A classical bit is either one or zero. "Moore's law" is an observation that, since the 1960s, the number of transistors that can be packed onto a circuit board has doubled approximately every two years. A quantum entangled pair of atoms with opposite electron magnetic moments (spins up or down). Instead, Del Maestro, assistant professor of physics, has won a prestigious 5-year CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation to study entanglement—that bizarre reality of atomic particles where measuring, say, one photon in an entangled pair instantly determines the state of its partner particle, even if they are miles apart—and how entanglement might be applied to create a new generation of ultra-fast quantum computers. Del Maestro’s pioneering work—including his invention of the first theoretical method to measure “operational entanglement” in a many-body quantum system—will complement these experimental efforts. This is what Del Maestro means by the electrons in the transistor being a one and zero—and millions of possibilities in between—at the same time. “If you make the distance between the terminal so small, then electrons can tunnel, quantum mechanically, through the barrier. 5-year CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation. Isn’t it naïve to chase after particles that can’t be distinguished from each other or properties that can’t be measured? Instead of relying on a binary bit, these computers will have qubits—quantum bits—as their base unit. Indeed this paradoxical truth (that Schrödinger made famous in 1935 with his both dead and alive cat) is a necessary foundation of entanglement. Traditionally, building a quantum circuit is like building a house of cards. Quantum fuel. A qubit might be one of those unmeasured electrons. But in an amazing experiment announced in April 2015, a team at Harvard was able to make real-world measurements of the amount of entanglement in lattices of these ultra-cold atoms. UVM physicist wins NSF CAREER grant to study entanglement. But the mile isn’t the point. In a rough sense, it’s the fact that when a group of particles are mixed together into a system they maintain connections, even after the parts are physically separated. Quantum Computer DIY. The trick, Del Maestro says, is how to avoid what, even in the scientific journals, is called “fluffy bunny” entanglement. Light speed is the ultimate speed limit and classical information can’t go any faster than that, but as George Musser has written, in the tiny world of quantum mechanics, “there may be no such thing as place and no such thing as distance.”. Instead of being just a one or zero, a qubit can be in multiple possible positions at the same time. “Basically, you can have much more information in a quantum bit,” Del Maestro says. A qubit might be one of those unmeasured electrons. A measurement of one atom's spin determines the corresponding result of a measurement of the other, regardless of how far they are apart. That’s a lot of entanglement. “But that can also be looked at as a huge opportunity.”. It could be a zero or a one—at the same time—when things get that small,” he says—and you’ve reached the ultimate size limit of a traditional silicon transistor.

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