A team of researchers from Bristol University have made a major breakthrough in quantum technology working alongside a Japanese company.
They have developed an optical chip which processes photons in an infinite number of ways.
The breakthrough has been compared with the creation of the microprocessor inside a computer, a single multipurpose chip that has revolutionised people’s life, allowing them to use one machine to surf the web, check emails and keep track of finances.
The researchers from the University of Bristol working with Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) in Japan, have pulled off the same feat for light in the quantum world.
It’s a major step forward in creating a quantum computer to solve problems such as designing new drugs, super-fast database searches, and performing otherwise intractable mathematics that aren’t possible for super computers.
Dr Anthony Laing, who led the project, said: “A whole field of research has essentially been put onto a single optical chip that is easily controlled.
“The implications of the work go beyond the huge resource savings.
“Now anybody can run their own experiments with photons, much like they operate any other piece of software on a computer. They no longer need to convince a physicist to devote many months of their life to painstakingly build and conduct a new experiment.”
The team demonstrated the chip’s capabilities by re-programming it to rapidly perform a number of different experiments, each of which would previously have taken many months to build.
Bristol PhD student Jacques Carolan, one of the researchers, added: “Once we wrote the code for each circuit, it took seconds to re-programme the chip, and milliseconds for the chip to switch to the new experiment.
“We carried out a year’s worth of experiments in a matter of hours. What we’re really excited about is using these chips to discover new science that we haven’t even thought of yet.”
The device was made possible by the university’s partnership with business and it could eventually have far reaching applications for the business world, once people find more ways to use the technology.
Professor Jeremy O'Brien, director of the Centre for Quantum Photonics at Bristol University, said: “Over the last decade, we have established an ecosystem for photonic quantum technologies, allowing the best minds in quantum information science to hook up with established research and engineering expertise in the telecommunications industry.
“It’s a model that we need to encourage if we are to realise our vision for a quantum computer.”
The University of Bristol's pioneering ‘Quantum in the Cloud’ is the first and only service to make a quantum processor publicly accessible and plans to add more chips like this one to the service so others can discover the quantum world for themselves.
The research is published in the Journal Science on Friday.
Pictured: The University of Bristol team from left, Chris Sparrow, Chris Harrold, Jacques Carolan and Dr Anthony Laing.