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Quantum Computers and Raising Schrödinger's Cat
D. J. Wineland, Department of Physics, University of Oregon
Quantum systems such as atoms can be used to store information. For example, we can store a binary bit of information in two energy levels of an atom, labeling the state with lower energy a “0" and the state with higher energy a “1.” However, quantum systems can also exist in superposition states, thereby storing both states of the bit simultaneously, a situation that makes no sense in our ordinary-day experience. This property of quantum bits or “qubits” potentially leads to an exponential increase in memory and processing capacity. It would enable a quantum computer to efficiently solve certain problems such as factorizing large numbers, a capability that could compromise the security of current encryption systems. It could also be used to simulate the action of other important quantum systems in cases where such a simulation would be intractable on a conventional computer. A quantum computer could also realize an analog of "Schrödinger's Cat," a bizarre situation where a cat could be simultaneously dead and alive. Experiments whose goal is to realize a quantum computer based on laser manipulations of atomic ions will be described but this is just one platform that many groups around the world are investigating.