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#Future Tech

New optical chip is a major leap in the quest for quantum computer

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Scientists may have created one of the most important devices that the quantum computing world needed – an optical reprogrammable chip – capable of processing photons in an infinite number of ways.

Researchers peg it as a major step in the quest for a quantum computer capable of performing calculations that a super computer can’t even imagine. The chip is a result of combined efforts of world’s leading quantum photonics group at Bristol University and Japan’s Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT).

The optical chip brings together a multitude of existing quantum experiments and can realise a plethora of future protocols that have not even been conceived yet, marking a new era of research for quantum scientists and engineers at the cutting edge of quantum technologies.

Though silicon based chips and computers are blazing fast, there is a limit to the amount of number crunching they can do and if answers to some of the greatest mysteries are to be found, we need computers capable of processing data at speed of light.

Researchers have been striving to understand nature at the quantum level and to engineer and control quantum states of light and matter. A major barrier in testing new theories for quantum science and quantum computing is the time and resources needed to build new experiments, which are typically extremely demanding due to the notoriously fragile nature of quantum systems.

The latest optical chip shows a step change for experiments with photons, and what the future looks like for quantum technologies.

Researchers were able to demonstrate the versatility of the device by performing various photonic QIP experiments with single photons. The demonstrations range from implementations of key components for quantum computation (entanglement generations and quantum gate operations) to the performance of state-of-the-art quantum tasks. The total number of circuit configurations used was approximately 1,000.

Dr Anthony Laing, who led the project, suggests that their work has essentially put all of the research carried out in the field of quantum computing onto a chip that can be easily controlled.

“Now anybody can run their own experiments with photons, much like they operate any other piece of software on a computer”, Dr Laing said.

The team demonstrated the chip’s unique capabilities by re-programming it to rapidly perform a number of different experiments, each of which would previously have taken many months to build.

Bristol PhD student Jacques Carolan, one of the researchers, added: “Once we wrote the code for each circuit, it took seconds to re-programme the chip, and milliseconds for the chip to switch to the new experiment. We carried out a year’s worth of experiments in a matter of hours. What we’re really excited about is using these chips to discover new science that we haven’t even thought of yet.”

The researchers have accomplished a longstanding goal of a device for linear-optics based QIP experiments. This achievement will accelerate researches across fundamental sciences and quantum technologies, NTT notes in a press release.

The work is published in the journal Science.