15/11/2013 06:03 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

Quantum Memory World Record Broken In Hunt For Truly Next-Gen Computers


The Quantum World Record has been broken!

Wait, what?

The BBC reports that a fragile quantum memory state has been maintained for a world record of 39 minutes.

Unlike data in traditional hard drives - which is recorded as either a 1 or a 0 at any one time - quantum data instead holds two positions at once. Known as 'qubits', these pieces of data potentially open up computers to be vastly more powerful, because it means they can perform more than one calculation at once.

But keeping them in these positions is notoriously difficult, and most of the research machines working on the idea can only maintain a "superposition" of this sort for a few seconds.

But now a team led by Mike Thewalt at Simon Fraser University in Canada have managed to make the data last for much longer - potentially opening up quantum computing to new avenues of study, and eventually commercial use.

Reporting his work in the journal Science, Thewalt said the finding "opens the possibility of truly long-term storage of quantum information at room temperature".

The key to the new method is to store data in the nuclei of phosphorus atoms, held in place by silicon. The superposition qubits are made by using magnetic pulses, at very low temperatures, but when raised to room temperature the data is held in place for 39 minutes - compared to a previous record of 25 seconds.

Experts say there is still a vast amount of work to be done in maintaining that data for long enough to be commercially useful. Working out how to place those qubits in different states at different times - and have them talk to each other - is another issue. But it's a giant step forward.

"This result represents an important step towards realising quantum devices," David Awschalom at the University of Chicago told the Beeb. "However, a number of intriguing challenges still remain."