In 1971, 2,300 transistors could be packed onto an Intel computer chip. Last year, that count had risen to over 5.5 billion transistors on a commercially available chip. You’re trying to build a large structure by putting cards on top of each other, and the slightest noise or interference from the outside will destroy the house of cards. It’s what’s called ‘topological’. Microsoft’s approach to quantum computing is different. A very large string of ones and zeros is the foundation of all the codes that make a computer work. “Entanglement is the fundamental property of quantum mechanics,” he says. This is what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance,” and though it might seem to violate the laws of the universe it really just shows that our human view of location is an illusion. 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. “So that's a problem,” Del Maestro says. A qubit might be one of those unmeasured electrons. “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. 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. UVM physicist wins NSF CAREER grant to study entanglement. 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. 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. A measurement of one atom's spin determines the corresponding result of a measurement of the other, regardless of how far they are apart. 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.”. 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. This, and other related recent discoveries, “brings the technological exploitation of many-body entanglement as a resource within reach,” Del Maestro notes. But the mile isn’t the point. 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? However, no actual bunnies will die. The trick, Del Maestro says, is how to avoid what, even in the scientific journals, is called “fluffy bunny” entanglement. 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. Now that I have your attention, be forewarned that the following short story is about quantum physics, the end of Moore’s Law as we know it, and what Einstein’s “spooky action at a distance” might have to do with some futuristic cousin of your iPhone.
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