Researchers of the University of Michigan have succeeded in building a quantum chip that is believed to be scalable and mass-producable.
Using the same semiconductor fabrication technology that is used in everyday computer chips, researchers were able to trap a single atom within an integrated semiconductor chip and control it using electrical signals, said Christopher Monroe, U-M physics professor and the principal investigator and co-author of the paper, "Ion Trap in a Semiconductor Chip." The paper appeared in the Dec. 11 issue of Nature Physics.
Quantum computers are promising because they can solve certain problems much faster than any possible conventional computer, owing to the bizarre features of quantum mechanics. For instance, quantum computers can process multiple inputs at the same time in the same device, and quantum circuitry can be wired via the quantum feature of entanglement, dubbed by Einstein as "spooky action-at-a-distance."
One of the most favored candidate quantum computer architectures is the use of individual atoms to store quantum bits ( qubits) of information, where each qubit can hold the number 1 or 0, or even both 1 and 0 simultaneously, Monroe said. Electrically charged atoms (ions) for such quantum computers are stored in what are known as ion traps. Trapping is necessary in order to isolate the qubits from the rest of the world, which is absolutely essential for the system to behave quantum mechanically. It is well known how to program a quantum computer composed of any number of trapped ions; the problem is to get the ions trapped in the first place.
A quantum computer can look at the two sides of a coin at once. Conventional computers can only look at one side at a time.
This quantum property also scales up.
A quantum computer can store all values ranging from 0 to 255 in 8 qubits, where a conventional computer can only store one of the values in the range 0 to 255 in 8 bits.
What it comes down to: quantum computers can solve problems, that require exponentially more calculation as the input increases, in an acceptable amount of time, where a conventional computer would take an unacceptable amount of time.
For instance, there exist encryption algorithms so strong, that a conventional computer would take more time than the Universe is old to crack it. A quantum computer could do it in minutes.
I'm sure a quantum computer can also be applied on stuff that is more useful to society. I can imagine there are plenty of exponential algorithms in medical simulations, that could definately use quantum computation. Medical simulations are important and will be a huge part of tomorrow's healthcare. Imagine being able to perform huge calculations in a small amount of time. That would make medical simulations real fast and accurate. A true boon to medicine.