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Dancing atoms hold prospect of superfast computing

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Retired Tech

Retired Tech

    Retired Staff

  • Retired Staff
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Suspended in laser light, thousands of atoms pair up and dance, each moving in perfect counterpoint to its partner.

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.

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