The hit film “Oppenheimer” sheds light on the contributions of American theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer towards creating the atomic bomb. As part of his groundwork for the movie, filmmaker Christopher Nolan is believed to have delved deeply into the realm of quantum mechanics, an area of science that saw transformative applications in numerous domains post World War II, according to experts. Quantum mechanics is “the examination of particles and energy at their core essence,” as articulated on the California Institute of Technology’s online portal. “It seeks to reveal the traits and actions of nature’s foundational elements.”
“When we delve into the tiniest of particles and energy dimensions, the physical laws appear to deviate from those we conventionally know,” commented Olivia Lanes, the principal figure for education and outreach in the quantum department at IBM. “Though the full workings elude us, we’ve harnessed its potential impressively,” she remarked to VOA. Quantum principles have transformed technological advancements, she noted, pointing to the solid-state storage devices in our mobiles and computers, as well as lasers and GPS systems. “All these innovations owe their existence to the breakthroughs in quantum studies,” she expressed. “They all adhere to quantum mechanics rules, so the next progressive step might be crafting a computer entirely rooted in such principles.”
In pursuing this, “we will apply the insights we’ve gathered on particles and matter from the past century to construct a novel kind of computational device. This device will leverage these principles to enable a range of previously unimaginable calculations,” Lanes remarked. “Atomic physics, the foundational science behind the movie, delves deeper than what audiences will witness on the display,” Bryana Quintana, the spokesperson for San Diego State University’s College of Sciences, penned in a fresh digital piece for the university’s Information Hub. “Just as the web and digital networks have drastically influenced contemporary civilization, quantum studies present avenues to enhance our comprehension of the cosmos and utterly revolutionize our approaches,” she commented. Quintana pointed out multiple instances where quantum research is currently being utilized in the realms of science and medicine, from aiding researchers in managing nuclear processes and enhancing the safety and efficiency of nuclear plants to advancements in healthcare. “Radiological medicine employs methods such as integrating radioactive markers to ensure more accurate diagnostic results and using a radioactive variant of iodine to effectively target and eradicate tumors,” she documented in the piece.
“Quantum computing represents a fresh paradigm and an innovative approach to executing computations and applying algorithms,” stated IBM’s Lanes, drawing a parallel between this and traditional computing. “Conventional computers operate on bits, which are these tiny silicon fragments that handle data by converting everything into zeros and ones, and they function based on the principles of classic physics,” she explained to VOA. “However, quantum computers operate using quantum physics.” Standard bits can only occupy one of two energy levels: 0 or 1. Yet, quantum mechanics’ principles permit quantum bits, or qubits, to exist in conditions that merge both simultaneously; somewhat 1 and somewhat 0 concurrently — until they undergo measurement. “This grants researchers the ability to explore entirely new sets of algorithms,” commented Lanes, “algorithms that are purposefully crafted to leverage this unique behavior. Some of these algorithms can process at speeds vastly superior to their best traditional equivalents.”
To put it differently, algorithms specifically tailored for quantum computers, which exploit this superposition characteristic, and the capability to intertwine qubits, make it feasible for some challenges to be tackled much more swiftly and effectively than with a conventional computer. “We envision quantum computing as an adjunct to traditional computing,” articulated Charina Chou, the director and chief operational officer at Google Quantum AI, in her conversation with VOA. “Qubits reflect the intricacies of real-world molecules, making them especially apt for addressing pertinent hurdles – such as crafting a superior solar cell by comprehending the interactions of electrons and photons (which adhere to quantum mechanics’ rules) within a substance,” she elaborated.
This tech behemoth has crafted a quantum computer that can compute in a tiny segment of the duration required by the most sophisticated computers. Chou mentioned this achievement was realized utilizing a benchmarking algorithm (random circuit sampling) which they initially employed in 2019, showcasing that a quantum computer had the prowess to markedly surpass a traditional computer. Though quantum computing is currently in its trial phase, it bears the capability to transform computing as we perceive it. Google’s ambition “is to fabricate a large-scale fault-tolerant quantum computer adept at tackling tasks that are challenging or unfeasible for regular computers, and to disseminate its advantages widely and effectively,” Chou emphasized. Lanes noted that, beyond medical uses, potential endeavors involving quantum computing might comprise the invention of novel materials aiding in mitigating climate issues, or engineering swifter maritime and aerial vehicles that journey extended spans. “Our aspiration is for it to serve mankind by ushering in a plethora of novel materials, medicines, and synthetic compounds that can elevate our standard of living,” she reflected.