Nov. 5 - British scientists have created miniscule quantum silicon chips, a development they describe as a major building block in the creation of super powerful quantum computers within a decade. Jim Drury has the story.
Its creators believe this tiny silicon chip represents a landmark step on the path to quantum computers. University of Bristol PhD student Josh Silverstone says it will help solve problems that conventional microelectronic circuits cannot answer..using particles of light. UPSOT: SILVERSTONE, OFF CAMERA, SAYING: "We inject the light through an optical fibre here - the width of a hair. It goes on to a silicon chip, propagates around and then is collected by these two output fibres on this side." Quantum computers could enable scientists to slice through sophisticated encryption schemes and filter complex databases with unparalleled efficiency. Silverstone and his colleagues say they'll be capable of complex calculations beyond the reach of today's most sophisticated super-computers...leading to the development of new materials like pharmaceuticals. The team have spent three years building the chips to store the quantum information, two millimetres long by four millimetres high, and half a millimetre thick. SOUNDBITE (English) PHD STUDENT AT BRISTOL'S CENTRE FOR QUANTUM PHOTONICS, JOSH SILVERSTONE, SAYING: "On it are some miniscule silicon wave guides, about half a micron thick, so two thousand in a hair kind of thing. So that's here, there's a microscope above, which is projected on this screen up here.....You can see the fibres coming in from the left and right and the chip in the centre, the black slab." The chips manipulate single particles of light, known as photons, to perform calculations The Bristol team, led by Professor Mark Thompson, are collaborating with scientists in Europe and Japan. Thompson says the silcon chip marks a huge improvement on the glass-based version. SOUNDBITE (English) MARK THOMPSON, DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF THE CENTRE FOR QUANTUM PHOTONICS IN THE UNIVERSITY'S SCHOOL OF PHYSICS, SAYING: "This first device here is a glass wave guide device and that's about five years old and it has on it about 30 individual elements and we use this to show some of the first demonstrations of an integrated quantum circuit. Now what I have here is the latest generation of device...made from silicon and, as you can see, it's much much smaller but ....on this particular device there's over 300 individual components and this allows much greater power for this particular device." Silicon is used routinely to build the tiny electrical processors in all computers and smart phones, so these chips are compatible with existing optical fibre infrastructure. They make possible the creation of hybrid quantum-conventional microprocessors within a decade and, Thomson says, could be adapted for use in mass-manufacturing sooner. SOUNDBITE (English) MARK THOMPSON, DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF THE CENTRE FOR QUANTUM PHOTONICS IN THE UNIVERSITY'S SCHOOL OF PHYSICS, SAYING: "We're optimistic that using the technologies we've developed here that we will be able to develop microchips that can perform tasks that current computers can't perform, probably within a time frame of five years or less." Computing has developed dramatically over the decades, with processor's sizes decreasing in inverse proportion to vast increases in memory and power. Mark Thompson and his team say they're confident that the next step in computing technology will, in fact, be a quantum leap.