They are the building blocks of what may one day become an enormously powerful quantum computer.
In today's computers, the smallest unit of storage is a binary digit or bit, which can only have two values -- zero or one. These form the basis of information storage in digital computing. When combined into groups of eight on a typical PC, these bits become bytes.
"In the quantum world, instead of just the possibilities of zeros and ones, you have a range of possibilities," Porto said in a telephone interview.
Quantum bits or qubits can also oscillate between the zero and one positions, like a half-flipped light switch. This flexibility could allow for many calculations to be carried out simultaneously, Porto said.