Winnipeg, June 14, 2004 – Smaller… Faster… More Powerful. It seems computer technology keeps advancing – but silicon-based improvements can’t last forever. “Moore’s Law” predicted how quickly inventors could miniaturize wires, transistors and chips. But around the year 2020, computer circuitry will have shrunk down to the size of mere atoms and molecules. In this quantum world, the physical laws we’re used to break down. Our classical laws of nature won’t apply.

Fortunately, there is a way to adapt to the new paradigm and exploit the differences. Digital information, for example, doesn’t have to flow as just ‘ones’ or ‘zeros.’ It can be both ‘ones’ AND ‘zeros’ at the same time! This is called “Superposition.” Harnessing this new dynamic will create a language ‘beyond digital’ and is one reason why quantum computers will have unimaginable power.

Raymond Laflamme and his research group at IQC, The Institute for Quantum Computing, are leading the way. Their labs and international researchers are the focus of a one-hundred million dollar public/private initiative on campus at The University of Waterloo. The inventor of the RIM “Blackberry” e-mail device, Mike Lazaridis, personally donated over 33-million dollars of his own money to get the research started.

The experiments build on Laflamme’s earlier work at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Laflamme says their work “is akin to the early experiments of the ‘40s in which the first computers were made from entire rooms filled with transistor tubes - and were about as powerful as a modern hand-held calculator.” In other words, these researchers are using big equipment - large superconducting magnets and racks of electronics - to manipulate just a handful of quantum bits, or ‘qubits’. They use a technique called nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) in which liquid or solid samples (about 1 centimeter in scale) are placed in very large magnetic fields (about 100,000 times the earth’s magnetic field). Because nuclei have a quantum property called ‘spin’ which makes them slightly magnetic, the large field slightly orients these little nuclear magnets along its direction. This bias towards one direction or another allows the experimenters to manipulate and read the ‘spin’ quantum state. The spin ‘up’ is akin to a ‘one.’ The spin down is like a ‘zero.’

While Laflamme’s pioneering work has been carried out with liquid samples to date, future devices are anticipated to be solid-state devices. So Laflamme set up part of his lab at IQC to accommodate solid-state NMR experiments, headed up by post-doctoral fellow Jonathan Baugh. Baugh says “in the liquid state we have been able to demonstrate control of the evolution of small quantum system, in the solid state we’ll be able to set up the initial state in an efficient manner and gain control on much larger systems. We are at present demonstrating the building blocks of this new approach." The control techniques now being developed by Baugh and Laflamme are at the cutting edge and will have applications in the quantum world beyond the NMR systems.

Quantum computers will be able to solve complex problems that modern day computers can’t. For some problems we already know the power is exponential. That means if 1 quantum computer has the power of 10 classical computers, 2 quantum systems will have the power of 100 modern day units, 3 quantum machines will equal 1000, and so forth! For example, quantum computers will be superb at factoring large numbers. Numbers so large – even secret government codes could be cracked. On the other hand, quantum mechanics provides perfectly secure protocols – part of a closely related new field know as “quantum cryptography.” In fact, the very nature of quantum information ensures it can’t be hacked because the act of snooping changes the quantum data!

Just as the steam engine jump started the Industrial Revolution, and controlling electromagnetic waves brought us modern day communications, the world is now entering a new era – The Quantum Age. This will be the century we out grow Moore’s Law and learn to exploit stranger new laws inside the atom – like quantum superposition - to process and store information.

Photo available at:

CAPTION: Raymond Laflamme (right) and Mike Lazaridis shake hands following the announcement of Mike’s $33.3 million personal donation for quantum computing research at the IQC (Institute for Quantum Computing). The two are standing in front of the 16.5 Tesla NMR magnet in one of the IQC labs.
PHOTO CREDIT: Chris Hughes


Dr. Jonathan Baugh
Phone: (519) 888-4567 x7491
Email: baugh@iqc.ca

Prof. Raymond Laflamme
Phone: (519) 888-4567 x2430
Email: laflamme@iqc.ca