06-05-2024

Earth.com staff writer

In the bizarre realm of quantum physics, a quiet revolution is taking place, where the impossible becomes possible.

Electrons spin both right and left simultaneously, and particles change states in unison despite vast distances separating them.

These intriguing phenomena are commonplace in the quantum world, and researchers are harnessing their power to revolutionize computing, sensing, and communication.

At the Walther Meissner Institute (WMI) on the TUM Garching research campus, Professor Rudolf Gross and his team are pushing the boundaries of quantum technology.

“We cool the chip down to only a few thousandths of a degree above absolute zero — colder than in outer space,” explains Gross, gesturing towards a delicate device with gold-colored disks connected by cables.

For two decades, WMI researchers have been working on quantum computers, a technology that emerged from the quantum physics revolution a century ago. Today, this field serves as the foundation for what Gross calls a “new era of technology.”

“We encounter quantum physics every day,” says Gross, citing the example of a glowing red stovetop burner.

Max Planck’s discovery of quanta in 1900 fundamentally changed our understanding of the microcosmos, paving the way for technologies like lasers, MRI machines, and computer chips.

While the first quantum revolution controlled large numbers of particles, the second quantum revolution focuses on manipulating individual atoms and photons.

“Today we can create tailor-made quantum systems,” says Gross, leveraging principles like superposition, quantum interference, and entanglement.

Classical computers process information sequentially, limiting their ability to solve complex problems efficiently. Quantum computers, however, use quantum bits (qubits) that can process 0 and 1 simultaneously, enabling parallel processing and quick solutions to highly complex tasks.

“Not even supercomputers which are constantly growing faster will be able to master all the tasks at hand,” says Gross, highlighting the potential of quantum computing to tackle problems that become overwhelmingly complex for classical computers.

Qubits, or quantum bits, are the fundamental units of information in quantum computing. They represent the quantum equivalent of classical bits, which are used in traditional computing.

However, qubits possess unique properties that make them vastly different from their classical counterparts.

One of the most remarkable features of qubits is their ability to exist in a state of superposition. While classical bits can only be in one of two states (0 or 1) at any given time, qubits can simultaneously exist in multiple states.

This means that a qubit can represent a combination of both 0 and 1 at the same time, allowing for complex computations to be performed in parallel.

Another essential property of qubits is entanglement. When two or more qubits are entangled, they become intrinsically linked, regardless of the physical distance between them.

This entanglement allows for instantaneous communication and correlation between the qubits, enabling quantum computers to perform certain calculations exponentially faster than classical computers.

To harness the power of qubits, researchers and engineers are developing sophisticated quantum circuits and algorithms. These circuits manipulate the states of qubits through a series of quantum gates, allowing for the execution of complex quantum operations.

By carefully controlling and measuring the states of qubits, quantum computers can solve problems that are intractable for classical computers, such as factoring large numbers, simulating complex molecules, and optimizing complex systems.

Quantum computers need hundreds of qubits to solve practical problems, but qubits are prone to losing their superposition due to disturbances like material defects or electrosmog.

Complex error correction procedures require thousands of additional qubits, a challenge that experts expect will take years to overcome.

Dr. Kirill Fedorov of the WMI proposes distributing qubits across several chips and entangling them to reduce errors.

“One important error source is unwanted mutual interaction between qubits,” he explains, suggesting that this approach could enable thousands of qubits to work together in the future.

“The fact that quantum states react so sensitively to everything can also be an advantage,” says Professor Eva Weig, a pioneer in the field of nano and quantum sensor technology.

She believes that this inherent sensitivity of quantum systems can be harnessed to create a new generation of highly precise and responsive sensors by leveraging the way quantum states are altered.

Weig envisions the development of quantum sensors capable of detecting minute changes in magnetic fields, pressure, temperature, and other physical parameters with unprecedented accuracy and spatial resolution.

Weig’s team is working on “nano-guitars,” tiny strings 1,000 times thinner than a human hair that vibrate at radio frequency.

By putting these nano-oscillators into a defined quantum state, they could be used as quantum sensors to measure forces between individual cells.

Professor Andreas Reiserer is exploring quantum cryptography, which relies on the principle that measuring a particle’s quantum state destroys the information it contains. “Quantum cryptography is cost-effective and can already support interception-proof communication today,” he says.

However, the scope of this technology is limited by the absorption of light in fiber optic cables. Reiserer’s team is researching quantum repeaters, storage units for quantum information spaced along fiber optic networks, to enable long-distance quantum communication.

“This way we hope to be able to traverse global-scale distances,” Reiserer says, envisioning a future where devices worldwide could be linked to form a “quantum supercomputer.”

As quantum technologies become more prevalent, it’s crucial to consider their ethical, legal, and societal implications. Professor Urs Gasser, head of the Quantum Social Lab at TUM, warns that the cost of arriving too late to the quantum revolution could outstrip the cost of being late on artificial intelligence.

“The good news is that there are already new encryption procedures which are secure against quantum computer attacks,” says Gasser, stressing the need to start preparing for the transition now.

Gasser emphasizes the far-reaching impact of the quantum revolution, stating, “The second quantum revolution is a paradigm shift which will have a far-reaching social, political and economic impact. We have to shape this revolution in the best interests of society.”

In summary, as researchers at the Garching research campus lead the charge in harnessing the bizarre phenomena of quantum physics, the potential applications of quantum technology are vast and far-reaching.

From quantum computers that can solve complex problems in a fraction of the time to quantum sensors that offer unparalleled precision and sensitivity, the future is undeniably quantum.

However, as we embrace this new era of innovation, we must also consider the ethical, legal, and societal implications of these advancements.

By actively shaping the quantum revolution with the best interests of society in mind, we can ensure that the benefits of these technologies are widely accessible and that their impact is overwhelmingly positive.

The full study was published by the Technical University of Munich.

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