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Usable quantum computing has taken a step closer to becoming a reality with a record-breaking experiment that saw quantum memory held in a stable state for 39 minutes at room temperature, 100 times longer than ever recorded.
The data is stored in silicon "qubits", which usually need to be kept at temperatures under 10 degrees kelvin (-269 degrees celsius) in order to hold on to data for an extended period. Qubits are able maintain a "superposition", acting as both ones and zeroes at the same time so they can take part in multiple calculations simultaneously. This in turn has the potential to create computers with power far beyond anything seen before, potentially able to crack today's most stringent encryption protocols with ease.
However, due to the fragile nature of qubits and their tendency to being knocked around by other stray molecules, they are generally not able to store data for more than a few seconds at room temperature.
An international team of physicists led by professor Mike Thewalt at the Simon Fraser University in Canada published their results in the journal, Science [pdf], which claims they have overcome a significant barrier to building practical quantum computers.
Thewalt said: "This opens up the possibility of truly long-term coherent information storage at room temperature. It would have a huge impact on security, code breaking and the transmission and storage of secure information.
"It would be able to solve problems which are impossible to solve on any conceivable normal computer. It would be able to model the behaviour of quantum systems, a task beyond the reach of normal computers, leading, for example, to the development of new drugs by a deeper understanding of molecular interactions," he continued.
The University of Bristol, meanwhile, currently offers its own cloud-based quantum computer, open to anybody who wishes to conduct their own experiments.