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Einstein, ‘spooky action’ and the future of computing


A groundbreaking group of theoretical and experimental physicists is coming together to experiment with a phenomenon that disturbed Einstein and which could one day make super-fast quantum computers a possibility.

Centenary professor of quantum information science Vlatko Vedral (pictured) is an expert in the theoretical study of entanglement – a phenomenon Einstein called ‘spooky action at a distance’. Two ‘entangled’ particles are connected because the fate of one depends on the other. A change in one particle is communicated to the other even faster than the speed of light, breaking all traditional rules of physics.

Quantum entanglement forms the basis for emerging technologies including quantum computers, which have a far greater capacity than today’s machines. Computers of the future fuelled by quantum bits could perform massive calculations – such as the factorisation of huge numbers – or complicated database searches.

“If you have one million names in a database then it can take a computer up to one million searches to find a particular one,” explains Professor Vedral. “A quantum computer could do this in the square root time; so in one thousand steps rather than a million.”

Professor Vedral’s group of theoretical quantum information will work with an experimental group, creating the UK’s largest centre for quantum work. “The UK – and Europe generally – is very strong on the theoretical side but often lacks the funding for experimental support. We are now in a unique position to be equally good at both,” said Professor Vedral.

The new group will test the fundamental ideas behind quantum mechanics – in particular how large an entangled system could be – and push them to their limits in a new £1.35m lab. “Bringing together theoretical and experimental groups means we can immediately implement our ideas and will allow us to take more risks,” said Professor Vedral.

Claire Jones | alfa
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