An Australian research team has led a major computing breakthrough that promises to revolutionise the way data is processed and dramatically increase the processing capacity of future supercomputers.


The team from the University of New South Wales created the first working quantum bit based on a single atom suspended in silicon, which the team believes is key to producing ultra-pwerful quantum computers in the future.


The research paper, published in the science journal Nature, shows how the team was able to both read and write information using the spin, or magnetic orientation, of an electron bound to a single phosphorus atom embedded in a silicon chip.


“For the first time, we have demonstrated the ability to represent and manipulate data on the spin to form a quantum bit, or ‘qubit’, the basic unit of data for a quantum computer,” says Scientia Professor Andrew Dzurak. “This really is the key advance towards realising a silicon quantum computer based on single atoms.”


Dr Andrea Morello and Professor Dzurak from the UNSW School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications led the team, which includes researchers from the University of Melbourne and University College, London.


“This is a remarkable scientific achievement – governing nature at its most fundamental level – and has profound implications for quantum computing,” says Professor Dzurak.


The new finding follows a 2010 study also published in Nature, in which the same UNSW group demonstrated the ability to read the state of an electron’s spin. Discovering how to write the spin state now completes the two-stage process required to operate a quantum bit.


The team’s next goal is to combine pairs of quantum bits to create a two-qubit logic gate – the basic processing unit of a quantum computer.