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Scientists find way to use photons as memory

Scientists at Yale University have discovered a way to store information in photons, thereby bringing us one step closer to the quantum computer.

Realizing quantum computing is regarded by many as the next great leap forward in technology, similar to the leap achieved by today’s digital computers. The increase in processing power and speed that such a device allows, would revolutionize the information technology industry. Scientists at Yale University have taken a step towards making the quantum computer a reality.

Much like a regular computer, a quantum computer needs to be able to store, transmit and process information. Unfortunately, quantum information, which can exist in two different states, or both at the same time, is fragile by nature: A major hurdle to quantum computing is the ability to reliably store information without altering or destroying it.


It's difficult to visualize the scale on which quantum computing takes place. A photon is the smallest component in electromagnetic waves


Photons are an excellent candidate for a storage unit, because they interact weakly with other media, such as wires, air or glass. As such, the photons won’t be absorbed by the medium, and whatever information stored on them will be safe once encoded. The problem with photons is that this very same property makes it a challenge to interact with the photon and manipulate it to encode such information.


However, scientists at Yale believe they’ve found a solution: "Our experiment has shown that we can create a medium that on the one hand enables us to manipulate the photon state, and on the other hand does not absorb the photons, which would destroy the quantum information stored in them," says Gerhard Kirchmair, lead author of the paper reporting on the discovery. The discovery means quantum states can be altered without complicated control mechanisms and the process of creating quantum computation algorithms would be simplified.


"The tricky bit for future experiments will be to switch on and off this effect at will, so that it only happens if we want it to happen," says Kirchmair, "We already have experiments on the way that show that we can do that."



David F.
A grad student in experimental physics, David is fascinated by science, space and technology. When not buried in lecture books, he enjoys movies, gaming and mountainbiking

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