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Published: 25 February 2016

How quantum computers will transform technology

Researchers at the University of Surrey are exploring quantum computers – the technology of the future.

According to computer experts, quantum computers have the capacity to transform our lives.

Steve Chick, a Physics PhD student at the University, who is researching quantum computers, explains:

“First, quantum computers hold a lot more information than normal computers. Second, you can use one quantum computer to do several complex calculations at the same time, using the same physical parts. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, they can naturally solve problems which involve finding the best way to do something.”

Examples of potential real world applications include accurate weather forecasting, the design of complicated aeroplane wings, controlling traffic in busy areas and developing useful new materials.

Steve added: “The world keeps inventing problems which can't be solved by modern computers, ranging from weather forecasting to aeroplane design. Part of the solution is to develop better computers which work by completely novel methods - quantum computing is about taking advantage of the strange behaviour of atoms to do calculations which are currently impractical.”

As part of his PhD research, Steve is specifically developing ways to manipulate phosphorous atoms inside silicon crystals.

He explained: “The general idea is that we can make a quantum computer using a material which is already well understood and mass produced today – silicon. Making a quantum computer involves learning how to manipulate individual atoms to make them interact exactly when and how you want them to.

I work on trying to control the shape and size of these atoms using infra-red light. If successful, we can use these techniques to entangle atoms and make a quantum computer.”

Steve has particularly enjoyed the exciting challenge of studying for a three-year full-time PhD in Physics and he is fully funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). He is mainly based at the Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) at Surrey but he has also spent periods of time doing research work at the FELIX Laboratory at Radboud University, Nijmegen, in The Netherlands. His work is part of a large collaborative project with other high profile institutions known as COMPASSS.

He said: “Over time, you become an expert in things that nobody else has thought of yet. It’s a remarkably creative pursuit, where your imagination is challenged as much as your knowledge.”

There are more technical issues to solve before quantum computers become available to the general public.

Steve adds: “I expect quantum computers to be used globally in my lifetime although I don’t expect to own one. At the end of the day, it’s exciting working in an area that as a child I could only have dreamed about.”

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