2019 – Tthe rise of the quantum era


US President Donald Trump discards staff like changing shirts and reverses policies without any forewarnings to staff or supporters alike. This behaviour is described by Armenian President Sarkissian, a quantum physicist-turned-politician, as quantum politics. afp –  

THE year 2018 was an exhausting one, but it marked the exhaustion of the old neo-liberal order, willingly dismantled by President Donald Trump to the aghast of friends and foes alike.

We seem to live at the edge of chaos, in which every dawn is broken by tweets that disrupt the status quo. There are no anchors of stability. Trump discarded staff like changing shirts, and reversed policies without any forewarnings to staff or supporters alike.

This behaviour was described by Armenian President Armen Vardani Sarkissian, a quantum physicist turned politician, as quantum politics.

Most of us use the term quantum to mean anything that we cannot understand. The reason why we find quantum concepts weird is that they do not conform with normal logic. As Italian physicist Carlo Rovelli explains it, “Reality is not what it seems”.

Human beings live at the macroscopic scale, which we observe from daily life. We like stability and order. But at the beginning of the 20th century, Albert Einstein and Nils Bohr changed the way physicists thought about how nature behaved. Quantum physics evolved from the study of the behaviour of atoms at the microscopic scale.

Order is only one phase in the process of evolution.

And since the 1980s, quantum science has expanded beyond physics to neuro-science, information computing, cryptography and causal modelling, with great practical success.

Like the iPhone, most people don’t know how it works, but quantum mechanics does work in practice.

The first quantum concept is that it is probablistic, not deterministic. In simple language, there is no such thing as certainty, which classical science, religion and our normal instincts teach us to believe. In the beautiful language of Rovelli, “quantum fields draw space, time, matter and light, exchanging information between one event or another. Reality is a network of granular events, the dynamic which connects them is probabilistic; between one event and another, space, time, matter and energy melt in a cloud of probability.”

Second, Bohr defined a dualistic property of quantum situations called complementarity. Light is both a particle and wave, not either/or. This concept of complementarity leads to the famous Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, which basically says that the position and velocity of an object cannot both be measured exactly and simultaneously, even in theory. If everything in the world comprises atoms and photons moving constantly, nothing can be measured exactly – the principle of indeterminacy.

The third concept is relational, in that everything is related to something. There are no absolutes, just as there is no certainty. Everything exists relative to something else. Quantum entanglement occurs when pairs or groups of particles interact with each other so that the quantum state of each particle is somehow related to the state of the other(s), even across great distances.

This phenomenon is popularly called the butterfly effect, which dramatically says that a butterfly flapping its wings may cause a typhoon across the Pacific. Einstein called entanglement “Spooky Action at a Distance”, and he tried hard to disprove it. But these effects were empirically verified in the 1970s.

Quantum physics is moving to centre stage because quantum information theory led to the invention of quantum computing. Until recently conventional computers use binary “bits” (one and zero) as the process for calculation of information. But a quantum computer uses quantum bits, called qubits, which can exist in both states simultaneously, and in so doing, it can process information faster and more securely than conventional computers.

This breakthrough means that quantum computing will transform artificial intelligence, deep learning and advance technology at speed, scale and scope that rivals anything we have witnessed in the world of classical computing. The goldmine of quantum computing is going to make fortunes for everyone, but he who controls the infrastructure (or pipes) across which quantum computing will be conducted will be the big winner.

Information Age

In the Information Age, knowledge, technology and knowhow is more valuable than gold. Central bank monetary creation as well as cyber-currencies like bitcoin, are quantum money, because the marginal cost of production of such “money” is near zero.

We are all so dazzled by such marvellous creation that many investors moved into the alchemy of asset price bubbles. It is no coincidence that the South Sea and Tulip bubbles occurred in an era of great “displacement”, when 17th century investors (including Isaac Newton) had no clue how to price massive returns from new companies colonising the South Seas, or the technological rarity of creating a black tulip.

In qubit terms, hard assets and soft/virtual liabilities are quantumly entangled with each other. If you can generate quantum liabilities at near zero cost, you can control and increase real assets to the disadvantage of your competitors. Put crudely, with a quantum computer and deep learning, you might be able to generate a drone-sized nuclear bomb using 3D printing at very low cost.

Or even more bluntly, you can do this under quantum encryption that the incumbent powers do not even know what you are doing.

It is therefore no coincidence, that the Western Deep States moved quickly against Chinese enterprises ZTE and Huawei, because these two have been big developers and users of quantum computing. First, deprive the competitor from access to the key high-tech fast chips that enable quantum computing to perform at speed. Second, disrupt the management and key talent that would enable such quantum capacity to be operationalised. Third, prevent them acquiring market share to an entrenched level, so that you have time to bring your own technology up to speed.

All these suggest that if you think in Thucydides Trap terms (classical arms race to nuclear war), we will all end up in nuclear mutual destruction.

If quantum thinking is a more “natural” way of thinking about our physical world and human behaviour (since our brains appear to neurologically work in quantum terms), then it means that we need to get rid of old classical thinking and mental traps. The real challenges to global prosperity and survival are climate change, social injustice, corruption, crime and disruptive technology, but mostly outdated mindsets. We need to think through these challenges in quantum terms, which means very new and weird ways of thinking round these obstacles.

Discarding old mindsets is never easy. But mankind has always thrived on getting new solutions to old problems, perhaps this time through a quantum frame of mind. On that optimistic note,

Happy New Year to all!

By Andrew Sheng – Think Asian– Tan Sri Andrew Sheng writes on global issues from an Asian perspective.

Related:

The photo shows electronics for use in a quantum computer in the quantum computing lab. Describing the inner workings of a quantum computer isn’t easy, even for top scholars. — AP











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Internet Protocol Version 9 第一代互联网 IPv9, Quantum Computing, AI and Blockchain: The Future of IT


Internet Protocol Version 9 第一代互联网 IPv9 

Great news and why Washington is harboring so much envy and hatred against China.

After watching the video “National Sovereign Network IPV9 officially unveiled”, I realized why cyber security is national security and what enabled the US Government to amass so much wealth from every other country in the world.

Day after day and each time we surf the internet, read our emails, WeChat, QQ, WhatsApp, etc., and use WiFi for whatever reasons including video streaming on smartphones and smartTVs, we have to use the United States Internet protocol IPV4. This is the parent server and the main root server for WWW or the worldwide Internet.

China had signed an agreement with the United States to rent the worldwide Internet for 20 years from the year 2000. Every year, China and the rest of the world have been, and currently still pay rents to the United States monopoly. The annual rents are increasing with the ever rising increase in usage, including 500 billion in 2007 and 1.8 trillion in 2017. By the end of 2020, it is estimated to be even more which is only the rent from China alone! Every other country in the world are also paying rents for Internet usage to the US. How much is that transfer of wealth! How can a country not be rich when it possesses such a humungus monopoly? If the ordinary American people ain’t receiving a share of this fabulous windfall, then their country’s elites like Trump, Clinton, Bush, Wall Street banksters like Goldman Sachs, etc., can perhaps be made to divulge their secret.

Thankfully for China (also quite likely for Third World countries) by 2014, China independently developed the IPV9 parent server and the main root server with independent intellectual property rights. Having achieved this quantum leap, China tried to negotiate with the United States to introduce to the world its new IPV9 protocol. Not surprisingly, it was rejected.

Then in 2015, a team of Chinese delegation of technological experts unveiled and gave a test introduction of IPV9 to members of the UN General Assembly. The team of experts were able to prove that both the security and quality of IPV9 far exceeded that of the United States’s IPV4 and IPV6.

The two nations were then given the opportunity to present their case at the end of which the UN Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor of China’s IPV9.

After further discussions, the UN General Assembly handed over management of the worldwide internet to China for 100 years. That is to say, when the current lease with the US expires in 2020, China will assume leadership and management of the worldwide internet with its superlative IPV9 parent server and the main root server.

All the receiving and transmitting stations in China have now been completed. To date, 25 countries have signed lease agreements with China with the rest of the world to follow. In 2019, IPV9 will be put into trial operation. When the lease with the US expires in 2020, the old and outdated American IPV4 will be closed and China’s new generation Internet, namely the “Internet of Things IPV9”, will be up and running. If Internet IPV4 and IPV6 made the United States brilliant, then the Internet of Things IPV9 will bring immense glory and blessings to China and the rest of the world for the next hundred years!

Quantum Computing, AI and Blockchain: The Future of IT – Talks at Google

Prof. Shoucheng Zhang discusses three pillars of information technology: quantum computing, AI and blockchain. He presents the fundamentals of crypto-economic science, and answers questions such as: What is the intrinsic value of a medium of exchange? What is the value of consensus and how does it emerge? How can math be used to create distributed self-organizing consensus networks to create a data-marketplace for AI and machine learning?

Prof. Zhang is the JG Jackson and CJ Wood professor of physics at Stanford University. He is a member of the US National Academy of Science, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a foreign member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He discovered a new state of matter called topological insulator in which electrons can conduct along the edge without dissipation, enabling a new generation of electronic devices with much lower power consumption. For this ground breaking work he received numerous international awards, including the Buckley Prize, the Dirac Medal and Prize, the Europhysics Prize, the Physics Frontiers Prize and the Benjamin Franklin Medal.

He is also the founding chairman of DHVC venture capital fund, which invests in AI, blockchain, mobile internet, big data, AR/VR, genomics and precision medicine, sharing economy and robotics.
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China to build world-leading national laboratory for quantum information sciences



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China is planning to build a massive 100-billion-yuan national laboratory for #quantum information sciences, in order to establish itself as a leader in quantum information sciences.

The National Laboratory for Quantum Information Sciences, which will be spread across Shanghai and Beijing and cities in Anhui province, will focus on the frontier science and key technology of the second quantum revolution, and develop strategic emerging industries covering quantum communication, computation, and precision measurement, so as to become a pioneer in the global competition and future  development of QIS, news portal CBN reported.
The information was revealed at the 2018 International Conference on Quantum Cryptography in Shanghai in August.  The project has allegedly received 2 billion yuan in financial support from the city of Shanghai and Anhui province.
The conference marked the first time for China to hold such an influential international academic event in the field of quantum cryptography, boosting the development of the country’s quantum communications network.
QIS can further improve information security, computing speed, and measurement accuracy, as so to provide core strategic power for national security and sustainable development.
China has been leading the global quantum revolution after the successful launch of
the Quantum Experiments at Space Scale, the world’s first quantum satellite, and the construction of the 2,000-kilometer Beijing-Shanghai quantum communication line.The market volume of China’s quantum communication industry reached 18 billion yuan in 2017, and is expected to reach 32 billion yuan in 2018, with a year-on-year increase of 77.78%, according to data from Qianzhan Industry Research Institute, the
most influential industry research and innovation consulting brand in China.

People’s Daily, China

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Chinese scientists make quantum leap in computing; jumbo passenger jet C919 liftoff !


Chinese leading quantum physicist Pan Jianwei, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and his colleagues announced they have built world’s first quantum computing machine at a press conference in the Shanghai Institute for Advanced Studies of University of Science and Technology of China on Wednesday. — People’s Daily

CHINESE scientists have built the world’s first quantum computing machine that goes far beyond the early classical — or conventional — computers, paving the way to the ultimate realization of quantum computing.

Scientists announced their achievement at a press conference in the Shanghai Institute for Advanced Studies of University of Science and Technology of China on Wednesday.

Scientists believe quantum computing could in some ways dwarf the processing power of today’s supercomputers. One analogy to explain the concept of quantum computing is that it is like being able to read all the books in a library at the same time, whereas conventional computing is like having to read them one after another.

Pan Jianwei, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and a leading quantum physicist, said quantum computing exploits the fundamental quantum superposition principle to enable ultra-fast parallel calculation and simulation capabilities.

In normal silicon computer chips, data is rendered in one of two states: 0 or 1. However, in quantum computers, data could exist in both states simultaneously, holding exponentially more information.

The computing power of a quantum computer grows exponentially with the number of quantum bits that can be manipulated. This could effectively solve large-scale computation problems that are beyond the ability of current classical computers, Pan said.

For example, a quantum computer with 50 quantum bits would be more powerful in solving quantum sampling problems than today’s fastest supercomputer, Sunway TaihuLight, installed in the National Supercomputing Center of China.

Due to the enormous potential of quantum computing, Europe and the United States are actively collaborating in their research. High-tech companies, such as Google, Microsoft and IBM, also have massive interests in quantum computing research.

The research team led by Pan is exploring three technical routes: systems based on single photons, ultra-cold atoms and superconducting circuits.

Recently, Pan Jianwei and his colleagues — Lu Chaoyang and Zhu Xiaobo, of the University of Science and Technology of China, and Wang Haohua, of Zhejiang University — set two international records in quantum control of the maximal numbers of entangled photonic quantum bits and entangled superconducting quantum bits.

Pan explained that manipulation of multi-particle entanglement is the core of quantum computing technology and has been the focus of international competition in quantum computing research.

In the photonic system, his team has achieved the first 5, 6, 8 and 10 entangled photons in the world and is at the forefront of global developments.

Pan said quantum computers could, in principle, solve certain problems faster than classical computers. Despite substantial progress in the past two decades, building quantum machines that can actually outperform classical computers in some specific tasks — an important milestone termed “quantum supremacy” — remains challenging.

In the quest for quantum supremacy, Boson sampling, an intermediate (that is, non-universal) quantum computer model, has received considerable attention, as it requires fewer physical resources than building universal optical quantum computers, Pan said.

Last year, Pan and Lu Chaoyang developed the world’s best single photon source based on semiconductor quantum dots. Now, they are using the high-performance single photon source and electronically programmable photonic circuit to build a multi-photon quantum computing prototype to run the Boson sampling task.

The test results show the sampling rate of this prototype is at least 24,000 times faster than international counterparts, according to Pan’s team.

At the same time, the prototype quantum computing machine is 10 to 100 times faster than the first electronic computer, ENIAC, and the first transistor computer, TRADIC, in running the classical algorithm, Pan said.

It is the first quantum computing machine based on single photons that goes beyond the early classical computer, and ultimately paves the way to a quantum computer that can beat classical computers. This achievement was published online in the latest issue of Nature Photonics this week.

In the superconducting quantum circuit system, a research team from Google, NASA and the University of California at Santa Barbara announced a high-precision manipulation of 9 superconducting quantum bits in 2015.

Now the Chinese team led by Pan, Zhu Xiaobo and Wang Haohua have broken that record. They independently developed a superconducting quantum circuit containing 10 superconducting quantum bits and successfully entangled the 10 quantum bits through a global quantum operation.

Chinese scientists aim to realize manipulation of 20 entangled photons by the end of this year, and will try to design and manipulate 20 superconducting quantum bits. They also plan to launch a quantum cloud computing platform by the end of this year.

Source: Xinhua

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China successfully launches world’s first quantum communication satellite ‘very exciting’ !


Combined photo shows China launching the world’s first quantum satellite on top of a Long March-2D rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Jiuquan, northwest China’s Gansu Province, Aug. 16, 2016. The world’s first quantum communication satellite, which China has launched, has been given the moniker “Micius,” after a fifth century B.C. Chinese scientist, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) announced Monday. (Xinhua/Jin Liwang)

WASHINGTON, Aug. 15 — China’s successful launch of the world’s first quantum satellite was “very exciting” and can help conduct experiments that may lead to “much more secure” quantum communications, a U.S. quantum expert said.

“The event is indeed very exciting and does carry global importance because this would be the first such experiment,” said Alexander Sergienko, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Boston University.

The satellite, Quantum Experiments at Space Scale (QUESS), lifted off from China’s Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at 1:40 a.m. Tuesday, local time.

Sergienko said the quantum communication race has been going on for the last 20 years since the initial demonstration of quantum key distribution link under Lake Geneva in 1995.

After that, metropolitan secure communication networks have been developed and demonstrated in Boston, Vienna, Beijing, and Tokyo, and many more examples of quantum metropolitan networks have been demonstrated in the last five years covering Canada, Italy, U.K. and Australia, he said.

“The race is now moving in the near space in order to cover longer distances between different metropolitan areas,” he said.

“I know there were plans to develop multiple point-by-point multi-city quantum communication segments to cover the distance between Shanghai and Beijing. A successful implementation of the satellite project would allow covering it in one step.”

Sergienko also predicted that quantum communication and cryptography will be first used to ensure the most important communication lines such as used by the government and by major business in their communication.

China said the 600-plus-kilogram QUESS, nicknamed “Micius,” is expected to circle the Earth once every 90 minutes after it enters a sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 500 kilometers.

In its two-year mission, QUESS is designed to establish “hack-proof” quantum communications by transmitting uncrackable keys from space to the ground, and provide insights into the strangest phenomenon in quantum physics — quantum entanglement.

China launches first-ever quantum communication satellite

China launches the world’s first quantum satellite on top of a Long March-2D rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Jiuquan, northwest China’s Gansu Province, Aug. 16, 2016. The world’s first quantum communication satellite, which China is preparing to launch, has been given the moniker “Micius,” after a fifth century B.C. Chinese scientist, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) announced Monday. (Xinhua/Jin Liwang)

China successfully launched the world’s first quantum satellite from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern Gobi Desert at 1:40 am on Tuesday.

In a cloud of thick smoke, the satellite, Quantum Experiments at Space Scale (QUESS), roared into the dark sky on top of a Long March-2D rocket.

The 600-plus-kilogram satellite will circle the Earth once every 90 minutes after it enters a sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 500 kilometers.

It is nicknamed “Micius,” after a fifth century B.C. Chinese philosopher and scientist who has been credited as the first one in human history conducting optical experiments.

In its two-year mission, QUESS is designed to establish “hack-proof” quantum communications by transmitting uncrackable keys from space to the ground, and provide insights into the strangest phenomenon in quantum physics — quantum entanglement.

Quantum communication boasts ultra-high security as a quantum photon can neither be separated nor duplicated. It is hence impossible to wiretap, intercept or crack the information transmitted through it.

With the help of the new satellite, scientists will be able to test quantum key distribution between the satellite and ground stations, and conduct secure quantum communications between Beijing and Xinjiang’s Urumqi.

QUESS, as planned, will also beam entangled photons to two earth stations, 1,200 kilometers apart, in a move to test quantum entanglement over a greater distance, as well as test quantum teleportation between a ground station in Ali, Tibet, and itself.

“The newly-launched satellite marks a transition in China’s role — from a follower in classic information technology (IT) development to one of the leaders guiding future IT achievements,” said Pan Jianwei, chief scientist of QUESS project with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

The scientists now are expecting quantum communications to fundamentally change human development in the next two or three decades, as there are enormous prospects for applying the new generation of communication in fields like defense, military and finance. SPOOKY & ENTANGLED

Quantum physics is the study of the basic building blocks of the world at a scale smaller than atoms. These tiny particles behave in a way that could overturn assumptions of how the world works.

One of the strange properties of quantum physics is that a tiny particle acts as if it’s simultaneously in two locations — a phenomenon known as “superposition.” The noted interpretation is the thought experiment of Schrodinger’s cat — a scenario that presents a cat that may be simultaneously both alive and dead.

If that doesn’t sound strange enough, quantum physics has another phenomenon which is so confounded that Albert Einstein described as “spooky action at a distance” in 1948.

Scientists found that when two entangled particles are separated, one particle can somehow affect the action of the far-off twin at a speed faster than light.

Scientists liken it to two pieces of paper that are distant from each other: if you write on one, the other immediately shows your writing.

In the quantum entanglement theory, this bizarre connection can happen even when the two particles are separated by the galaxy.

By harnessing quantum entanglement, the quantum key technology is used in quantum communications, ruling out the possibility of wiretapping and perfectly securing the communication.

A quantum key is formed by a string of random numbers generated between two communicating users to encode information. Once intercepted or measured, the quantum state of the key will change, and the information being intercepted will self-destruct.

According to Pan, scientists also plan to test quantum key distribution between QUESS and ground stations in Austria. Italy, Germany and Canada, as they have expressed willingness to cooperate with China in future development of quantum satellite constellations, said Pan. LIFE CHANGING

With the development of quantum technology, quantum mechanics will change our lives in many ways. In addition to quantum communications, there are quantum computers that have also drawn attentions from scientists and governments worldwide.

Quantum computing could dwarf the processing power of today’s supercomputers.

In normal silicon computer chips, data is rendered in one of two states: 0 or 1. However, in quantum computers, data could exist in both states simultaneously, holding exponentially more information.

One analogy to explain the concept of quantum computing is that it is like being able to read all the books in a library at the same time, whereas conventional computing is like having to read them one after another.

Scientists say that a quantum computer will take just 0.01 second to deal with a problem that costs Tianhe-2, one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world, 100 years to solve.

Many, however, is viewing this superpower as a threat: if large-scale quantum computers are ever built, they will be able to crack all existing information encryption systems, creating an enormous security headache one day.

Therefore, quantum communications will be needed to act like a “shield,” protecting information from the “spear” of quantum computers, offering the new generation of cryptography that can be neither wiretapped nor decoded. GOING GLOBAL?

With the launch of QUESS, Chinese scientists now are having their eyes on a ground-to-satellite quantum communication system, which will enable global scale quantum communications.

In past experiments, quantum communications could only be achieved in a short range, as quantum information, in principle, could travel no more than 500 kilometers through optical fibers on the land due to the loss of photons in transmission, Pan explained.

Since photons carrying information barely get scattered or absorbed when travelling through space and Earth’s atmosphere, said Pan, transmitting photons between the satellite and ground stations will greatly broaden quantum communications’reach.

However, in quantum communications, an accurate transmission of photons between the “server” and the “receiver” is never easy to make, as the optic axis of the satellite must point precisely toward those of the telescopes in ground stations, said Zhu Zhencai, QUESS chief designer.

It requires an alignment system of the quantum satellite that is 10 times as accurate as that of an ordinary one and the detector on the ground can only catch one in every one million entangled photons fired, the scientist added.

What makes it much harder is that, at a speed of eight kilometers per second, the satellite flying over the earth could be continuously tracked by the ground station for merely a few minutes, scientists say.

“It will be like tossing a coin from a plane at 100,000 meters above the sea level exactly into the slot of a rotating piggy bank,” said Wang Jianyu, QUESS project’s chief commander.

Given the high sensitivity of QUESS, people could observe a match being lit on the moon from the Earth, Wang added.

After years of experimenting, Chinese scientists developed the world’ s first-ever quantum satellite without any available reference to previous projects. Now they are waiting to see QUESS’s performance in operation.

According to Pan, his team has planned to initiate new projects involving research on quantum control and light transmission in space station, as well as tests on quantum communications between satellites, all-time quantum communications and the application of quantum key network.

“If China is going to send more quantum communication satellites into orbit, we can expect a global network of quantum communications to be set up around 2030,” said Pan. – Xinhuanet

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World’s first Quantum communication satellite to be launched in China against hackers


China is poised to become the first country to send encoded information from space that cannot be hacked. Scientists are making final adjustments to China’s first quantum communication satellite. The project chief describes it as a revolution in communications.

China will launch its first experimental quantum communication satellite in July, according to the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

 

China is poised to become the first country to send encoded information from space that cannot be hacked. Scientists are making final adjustments to China’s first quantum communication satellite. The project chief describes it as a revolution in communications.

A quantum photon cannot be separated or duplicated, which means if someone tried to decode information, the encryption would change, and the receiver would know that his letter was opened by someone.

Scientists hope the new technology will protect China from future cyber issues. In 2015, cases involving information technology in China rose by more than 120 percent, according to survey by a non-profit cybersecurity institution. China plans to use its quantum satellite system to cover the planet by 2030.

On the ground, China is also building its own quantum information sharing network for use in national defense and security. At some point, China plans to connect the ground network to the quantum satellite system.

It has taken five years for Chinese scientists to develop and manufacture the first quantum satellite. In June, it will be transported to the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in southwest China for final preparation and launch in July., 2016

China wins space race to launch world’s first ‘quantum communication’ satellite in fight against hackers

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Quantum Computing? Quantum Bar Magnets in a Transparent Salt


ScienceDaily (June 15, 2012) — Scientists have managed to switch on and off the magnetism of a new material using quantum mechanics, making the material a test bed for future quantum devices.

This image shows the antiferromagnetic arrangement of the spins (colored arrows) in the magnetic salt used by the Swiss-German-US-London team. (Credit: University College London)

The international team of researchers led from the Laboratory for Quantum Magnetism (LQM) in Switzerland and the London Centre for Nanotechnology (LCN), found that the material, a transparent salt, did not suffer from the usual complications of other real magnets, and exploited the fact that its quantum spins — which are like tiny atomic magnets — interact according to the rules of large bar magnets. The study is published in Science.

Anybody who has played with toy bar magnets at school will remember that opposite poles attract, lining up parallel to each other when they are placed end to end, and anti-parallel when placed adjacent to each other. As conventional bar magnets are simply too large to reveal any quantum mechanical nature, and most materials are too complex for the spins to interact like true bar magnets, the transparent salt is the perfect material to see what’s going on at the quantum level for a dense collection of tiny bar magnets.

The team were able to image all the spins in the special salt, finding that the spins are parallel within pairs of layers, while for adjacent layer pairs, they are antiparallel, as large bar magnets placed adjacent to each other would be. The spin arrangement is called “antiferromagnetic.” In contrast, for ferromagnets such as iron, all spins are parallel.

By warming the material to only 0.4 degrees Celsius above the absolute “zero” of temperature where all classical (non-quantum) motion ceases, the team found that the spins lose their order and point in random directions, as iron does when it loses its ferromagnetism when heated to 870 Celsius, much higher than room temperature because of the strong and complex interactions between electron spins in this very common solid.

The team also found that they could achieve the same loss of order by turning on quantum mechanics with an electromagnet containing the salt. Thus, physicists now have a new toy, a collection of tiny bar magnets, which naturally assume an antiferromagnetic configuration and for which they can dial in quantum mechanics at will.

“Understanding and manipulating magnetic properties of more traditional materials such as iron have of course long been key to many familiar technologies, from electric motors to hard drives in digital computers,” said Professor Gabriel Aeppli, UCL Director of the LCN.

“While this may seem esoteric, there are deep connections between what has been achieved here and new types of computers, which also rely on the ability to tune quantum mechanics to solve hard problems, like pattern recognition in images.”

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