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Physicists have experimentally encoded one quantum bit (qubit) in entangled states distributed over several particles and for the first time carried out simple computations on it. The 7-qubit quantum register could be used as the main building block for a quantum computer that corrects any type of error.
In a close collaborative effort, Spanish and Austrian physicists have experimentally encoded one quantum bit (qubit) in entangled states distributed over several particles and for the first time carried out simple computations on it. The 7-qubit quantum register could be used as the main building block for a quantum computer that corrects any type of error. The researchers' results have now been published in Science.
Even computers are error-prone. The slightest disturbances may alter saved information and falsify the results of calculations. To overcome these problems, computers use specific routines to continuously detect and correct errors. This also holds true for a future quantum computer, which will require procedures for error correction as well: "Quantum phenomena are extremely fragile and error-prone. Errors can spread rapidly and severely disturb the computer," says Thomas Monz, member of Rainer Blatt's research group at the Institute for Experimental Physics at the University of Innsbruck.
A quantum bit encoded in seven ions
For the experiment at the University of Innsbruck the physicists confined seven calcium atoms in an ion trap, which allows them to cool these atoms to almost absolute zero temperature and precisely control them by laser beams. The researchers encoded the fragile quantum states of one logical qubit in entangled states of these particles. The quantum error-correcting code provided the program for this process. "Encoding the logical qubit in the seven physical qubits was a real experimental challenge," relates Daniel Nigg, a member of Rainer Blatt's research group. The physicists achieved this in three steps, where in each step complex sequences of laser pulses were used to create entanglement between four neighboring qubits. "For the first time we have been able to encode a single quantum bit by distributing its information over seven atoms in a controlled way," says an excited Markus Müller, who in 2011 moved from Innsbruck to the Complutense University in Madrid. "When we entangle atoms in this specific way, they provide enough information for subsequent error correction and possible computations."