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Blue Ink Makes Quantum Computing A Bit More Likely

A chemical in blue pigment seems like a great candidate for making a cheap quantum computer.

Blue Ink Makes Quantum Computing A Bit More Likely
[Image: Flickr user Tomi Knuutila]
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Quantum computing is all kinds of exciting, thanks to the mind-boggling capabilities a quantum computer could have (think incredibly fast parallel number crunching powers), but the actual hardware to make the devices work is currently awkward, clunky, and not at all near the kind of sophistication that we’re used to in regular computers. An innovation at University College London may change that, however, because it’s based on a common blue pigment that’s actually used in the £5 banknote.

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Quantum computers rely on exotic physical conditions to maintain the flow of “qubits” through their circuits, where standard computers shuffle electrons from transistor to transistor as binary bits are processed. A qubit can be much more than just on, or “1” and off or “0”–it exists in a superposition state which means it can actually be both on and off at the same time as well as a value in between 0 and 1. Put simply, this means that you can pass much more information through the circuits of a quantum computer at once compared to the binary operations of a digital computer. The trick in making a quantum computer is to find materials that can allow the flow electrons that are in a superposition state, but though these materials do exist they tend to be exotic, expensive, and hard to work with.

No so for copper phthalocyanine. It’s already found in many household products, and its strong blue color means it’s commonly used as a blue pigment in printing and other areas. Fabulously for quantum computing purposes it’s low-cost and it’s an organic semiconductor that can actually be produced as a thin film. The new study has shown that it can contain superposed electrons for a long time–long enough that it could be used to make the circuits of a quantum computer.

What can we make of this? Well, you’re not going to be plugging in your own quantum computer next year that’s made out of a super intelligent shade of the color blue–turning this innovation into a quantum computer that you could program is a while off. But it does mean that yet more progress has been made in actually achieving a practical quantum computer, and when that revolution comes it will change many things about computers and coding as you know it. Until then, though, it may be worth toying with a publicly accessible quantum processor that the University of Bristol has hooked up online.

About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise. I've also got a PhD, and worked in such roles as professional scientist and theater technician...thankfully avoiding jobs like bodyguard and chicken shed-cleaner (bonus points if you get that reference!)

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