Origins, Science, and Directions of Quantum Computing

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Migrating fowl have an uncanny sense of direction--it is because of  a bio-compass.  Image by Gracey

Migrating fowl have an uncanny sense of direction-it is because of a bio-compass. Image by Gracey

Sometime in the future, our descendants will utilize Quantum Mechanical (QM) properties from molecules as computers.

Although the discoverers of QM would not have foreseen molecular-type computers, their eventuality results from paradoxes between Einstein’s Relativity and Quantum Mechanics.

Quantum Mechanics: A Peeve of Albert Einstein

Quantum Mechanics describes how atoms and molecules ‘behave’ – it’s a guide to the behavior of the ‘very small.’ More importantly, however, fundamental tenets of Quantum Mechanics bridge classical physics with the atomic realm. Classical physics described everything – from cars to water waves and the electric light bulb. While Einstein’s Theory of Relativity could bridge the classical laws of physics, it could not account for the atomic realm as QM had.

QM was counter-intuitive to many scientists of Einstein’s day (and Einstein as well). In an attempt to discredit QM, Einstein with his group argued QM was fundamentally wrong—it violated the laws of the Universe.

One problem: The Uncertainty Principle stated, ‘scientists can not measure the velocity of an atom nor its position simultaneously.‘  Moreover, the determination of an atom’s position depended upon a measure of its probability, and once the position was determined—the velocity could not.

Further considerations of the Uncertainty Principle led to conceptualizing energy and time as uncertain, as well. To Einstein and his group, Uncertainty Principle represented ‘God playing dice’ -or the laws of physics (using QM) were incomplete physical laws. Furthermore, by Einstein’s logic, many QM measurements were ‘spooky.’ In terms of present day technology, the two quantum properties (speed and position or Energy and time) were entangled.

Examples of Entanglement – or ‘Spookiness’

In a nutshell, entanglement is described in quantum terms (with caveats below) by two or more quantum sized entities interacting but cannot be discretely isolated—without quantum mechanical forces—or in chemical terms:

quantum states

This Intermediate State is ‘Spooky.’ Copyright Image by John Jaksich, all rights reserved.

The Intermediate State above is ‘spooky or entangled’ because (1) the two species in the intermediate state cannot be mathematically described as two discrete entities (2) an inherent feature of ‘true entanglement’ is that it may be measured by an outside force-Quantum Mechanical force. Once measured, the outside force can separate the species.  Moreover, not all intermediate chemical species are entangled.

In an everyday example, we can examine how birds use magnetic fields to guide their migrations with entangled neuroreceptors. It is a known fact that birds will migrate to warmer climes in the winter months. However, what has been a mystery for up to the last several years is the mechanistic detail. Then, researchers discovered that all migrating fowl possess a bio-magnetic compass in their primitive brains-and the Earth’s magnetic poles affect how migrating fowl will return to their original birthing and mating grounds. The Earth’s magnetic field differs from area to area throughout much of the globe-thus, certain fowl (ducks or geese) ‘chemically recall their birth places with the neuro-receptors.’ It is similar to having a memory implanted—permanently.

Quantum mechanics can and does describe chemical behavior. Every molecule possesses a quantum mechanical description or equation. When a pair of molecules undergoes a reaction to form (make) a new molecule-each molecule is described by a quantum mechanical equation. However, when the two molecules interact while in the process of forming the new one—they cannot be cleanly described with a pair of quantum mechanical equations-this state is one of entanglement.

Quantum Computation

The Chloroform molecule is used for testing Quantum Computing Algorithms with Nuclear Magnetic Resonance. Image by John A. Jaksich

Quantum Computation: One Method-Carbon Nuclear Magnetic Resonance

The entanglement in this technology comes into play as we realize the specific molecule contains pair(s) of atoms that are sensitive to radio frequencies used for carbon magnetic resonance. Although somewhat similar to the bird migration example above, the technology holds promise since there are a multitude of (RF sensitive) carbon bearing molecules. Nuclear Magnetic Resonance could be utilized with multiple discrete molecules as tools.

Nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR) was among the first techniques utilized in the hope of producing a quantum computer. The backbone of NMR spectroscopy lies in the nuclei of atoms-certain nuclei are susceptible to NMR technology. The specific molecules contain nuclei that can (or are said to) “spin.”

Hydrogen nuclei and carbon-13 nuclei possess odd numbers of protons that can or do “spin.”

The spin is a type of ‘resonance.’ When we shine the proper radio frequency is shone upon the molecule-the unpaired proton ‘lights up to an excited level of energy (it will resonate)’  and fall back to its original energy state.

However, because the ‘computer’ is dependent upon which molecule is utilized, we are left with a myriad of choices as how to implement it. Chloroform is ideal for NMR quantum computation: (1) it is considered small-there are fewer degrees of freedom-only carbon and hydrogen are important, (2) fewer degrees of freedom (and smaller size) dictate how many the computer operates in “bits.” The quantum computer operates in quantum bits, or qubits (rather than bits)-and chloroform has 2 qubits (there are two degrees of manipulation or freedom).

Algorithms: From Reams of Paper to Molecules

Early prominent quantum algorithms were touted as ways to factor numbers (breaking and implementing computer firewalls) or in communication, researchers presently optimized specific molecules for specific tasks.

The Chloroform molecule (illustrated above) finds utilization in a specific algorithm known as the Deutsch-Jozsa algorithm. The methodology solves a complex mathematical function that takes a fraction of normal time to implement on a conventional computer.

Future of Quantum Computing

The future of Quantum computation is being written today: from the US government’s NIST and Alphabet (formerly Google) to Harvard College and Oxford University. Whether we see the first practical Quantum computer as a ‘fire-wall’ or a ‘driver-less vehicle,’ we owe its origins to two groups of individuals- both concerned about deriving the truth from the Universe.

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