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Rice-Sized Laser Leads the Way in Quantum Computing

Jan 16, 2015 11:50 PM EST
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A newly developed laser the size of a grain of rice could lead the way to advances in quantum computing, new research says.

A team from Princeton University used quantum dots - tiny bits of semiconductor material that act like single atoms - to build a so-called "maser," or tiny microwave laser that emits light at longer wavelengths than traditional lasers. What's more, the device only requires one-billionth the electric current needed to power a hair dryer.

"It is basically as small as you can go with these single-electron devices," Jason Petta from Princeton University, who led the study, said in a statement.

This maser not only bodes well for quantum computing, but according to Live Science also could improve the look of LCD screens on televisions, smartphones and tablets. Companies such as Apple, Samsung and Amazon are currently experimenting with, or even already used, quantum dots in their devices.

The device actually consists of four quantum dots, in two pairs, placed inside and toward the end of a narrow cavity made of a superconducting material, niobium, which requires a temperature near absolute zero (around minus 459 degrees Fahrenheit). Transferring just one electron at a time, each double quantum dot emits a photon in step with each other - a maser.

"The goal was to get the double quantum dots to communicate with each other," added fellow researcher Yinyu Liu.

Scientists consider this technology a breakthrough because the energy levels inside the dots can be fine-tuned to produce light at other frequencies, unlike other semiconductor lasers. In ordinary lasers the frequency of the emitted light is fixed due to the material used to create the laser beam.

Researchers hope that one day masers can be used to perform experiments in quantum computing, since the interactions between light and moving electrons seen in this study are part of the processing in such machines.

The new study was published in the journal Science.

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