Quantum computers that store information in so-called quantum bits (or qubits) will be confronted with a fundamental limitation. This is the claim made by Dutch theoretical physicists from the Foundation for Fundamental Research on Matter (FOM) and Leiden University in an article recently published in the journal Physical Review Letters.
Electron microscope image of a qubit from Hans Mooijs research group at Delft University of Technology
A quantum computer can only function if the information exists for long enough to be processed. The so-called coherence of the qubit ensures that the quantum information remains intact. The researchers have now discovered that the coherence spontaneously disappears over the course of time and with this the stored information as well. This could pose a considerable problem for the development of a quantum computer.
A quantum computer makes use of the fact that a quantum mechanical system -an electron, an atom or even a larger system such as a superconducting quantum bit - can simultaneously exist in two states. Normally one of the two states disappears as soon as the system comes into contact with the outside world. The coherence then disappears as a result of the decoherence process and the information in a quantum bit is lost.
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