Silicon chips with ultra-cold atoms – the future of computing

Institute of Physics Condensed Matter and Materials Physics Conference

University of Warwick, 4-7 April, 2004

Developments in snap-shot MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), organic semiconductor technology, high temperature superconductivity, and progress towards quantum computers are some of the topics being presented at a major conference organised by the Institute of Physics next month. The four-day conference, CMMP 2004, will take place from Sunday 4th to Wednesday 7th April 2004 at the University of Warwick.

Silicon microchips touch our lives in many ways – they power personal computers and enable high-speed medical imaging. Inside silicon chips, electrons move along microscopic wires that form complex electrical circuits. At this conference, on Tuesday 6th April, Professor Jakob Reichel from the University of Munich will describe a revolutionary new type of microchip in which entire atoms, rather than just electrons, move around circuits. In these “atom chips”, thousands of atoms hover in a cloud above the surface of the chip, and move along air wires produced by tiny magnetic fields – like microscopic magnetic levitation trains floating above a track.

The atom clouds themselves are very special – they are so cold that all of the atoms merge into one “superatom”, known as a Bose-Einstein Condensate, which behaves like a wave and exhibits bizarre quantum behaviour. Bose-Einstein Condensates have just entered the Guinness Book of Records as the coldest ever place – within a few billionths of a degree of the lowest possible temperature, absolute zero. Using atom chips to move and manipulate Bose-Einstein Condensates could enable the development of “quantum computers”, which would exploit unique features of quantum mechanics, and, for certain tasks, be vastly more powerful than the conventional electronic computers available today.

There will be twenty-two symposia within the conference including ’Nanomagnetism and Spintronics’, ’Quantum Fluids and Solids’, ’Semiconductor Optics and Photonics’, ‘Applied Superconductivity’ and ’Bose-Einstein Condensates’. In addition to the presentations in each symposium, there will be a series of plenary lectures by world-renowned researchers. These include ‘Snap Shot MRI’ by Nobel prize-winner Sir Peter Mansfield, ‘Carbon Nanotube Electronics and Optoelectronics’ by P Avouris of IBM USA, ’Single Photon Devices for Quantum Cryptography’ by A Shields of Toshiba UK, ’Dynamic Phenomena in Magnets: Investigations over Five Orders of Magnitude’ by RL Stamps of the University of Western Australia and ’Liquids, Solids and Elastic Heresy in Between – is there a 2 1⁄2th State of Matter?’ by M Warner of the University of Cambridge, UK.

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