Quantum information storage that lasts and lasts

Technique smashes previous time records for holding data at room temperature

In a significant advance toward the elusive quantum computer, physicists have stored snippets of quantum information at room temperature for more than 1,000 times as long as any previous experiment.

Quantum information comes in units called qubits, which can be in one of two states or, thanks to quantum weirdness, both states at once. This combined state lasts longest at temperatures near absolute zero. Scientists have struggled to make qubits that can survive anything close to room temperature, a necessity for any future quantum computer.

In the new research, a team led by physicist Mike Thewalt of Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada, embedded ultracold phosphorus atoms in an extremely pure silicon matrix. The nuclei of the phosphorus atoms have two possible states: spin up and spin down. The researchers warmed the atoms to room temperature, put their nuclei into a dual state combining spin up and spin down and measured the time the nuclei took to return to one of the pure spin states.

The team reports in the November 15 Science that the wait took 39 minutes, smashing the previous record of two seconds.

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