Yesterday, researchers announced a breakthrough: a quantum computer based on a crystal composed of 300 atoms. Although it doesn’t sound like much, the potential computing power of this quantum computer dramatically outstrips all present day computers. The full details were published in Nature.

Instead of operating in a binary system like regular computers, a quantum computer can take advantage of a property called “superposition.” “Superposition” refers to the ability of a quantum particle to appear to hold two positions at once. The result is that through superposition, each particle, or qubit, can solve two equations at once. Therefore, the computing power of a quantum computer increases rapidly with each additional qubit. The formula is 2 to the n power, where n in the number of qubits, and the result is the number of states a quantum computer can possess (or calculations it can perform). I apologize to any physicists or computer experts out there if I misstate superposition or any aspects of a quantum computer–the science is a bit beyond me.

Although the processor here is only 300 atoms, the quantum computer itself currently requires a room filled with vacuum chambers, pumps, and lasers. This computer represents something the size of ENIAC and other early computers. But soon, it is hoped, you will find a quantum computer in every home (and soon in mobile devices?), with everyone taking advantage of the almost magical properties of superposition.

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