Custom-assemble five fluorine atoms with a few other atoms, and the product is a molecule. It's also a computer. The problem that it's solved is a simple one, but the exercise provides experimental evidence that a quantum computer can handle certain mathematical problems more efficiently than can a conventional computer.
Though a practical quantum computer still may be decades away, "this result gives us a great deal of confidence in understanding how quantum computing can evolve into a future technology," says Isaac L. Chuang of the IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif.
He and his collaborators announced the feat last week at the Hot Chips 2000 conference at Stanford University.