Photonic chip hits light speed

A team of international researchers has designed a photonic chip that operates on the principle of light, rather than electricity.

The processor is expected to pave the way for the production of ultra-fast quantum computers, with early systems geared towards physicists and medical scientists running advanced simulations.

Jeremy O’Brien, director of the UK’s Centre for Quantum Photonics, who led the project, told the Financial Times that many researchers in the field had believed a functional quantum computer would not be a reality for at least 25 years.

“However, we can say with real confidence that, using our new technique, a quantum computer could, within five years, be performing calculations that are outside the capabilities of conventional computers,” said O’Brien.

“[And] unlike an electronic ‘bit’ in conventional computing, the use of quantum particles, or ‘qubits,’ permits parallel computing on a scale that would not be possible with conventional electronics.”

According to O’Brien, the breakthrough will facilitate the processing of data based on the counterintuitive rules of quantum physics – which allows individual subatomic particles to remain in several places simultaneously.

“[Now], there are several [working] models, [but] the Bristol version sends ‘entangled’ photons down networks of circuits in a silicon chip. The particles perform a co-ordinated ‘quantum walk,’ whose outcome represents the results of a calculation.

“Of course, special software and input-output devices will [eventually] have to be developed to make practical use of [such future] devices,” he added.