We have put atoms trapped inside a silicon crystal into a state that is both oscillating and not oscillating at the same time.
This control is providing us with a new way of performing computing logic - just think how powerful you could be if you could do two things at once!
Atoms really can, and we all have to adjust our perceptions of reality to cope with these ideas.
This spooky property was made famous by Erwin Schrödinger with his thought experiment involving a cat in a box that is hooked up to a quantum system, which forces the cat to be both alive and dead at the same time.
It is only in the 21st century that electronic information technology is beginning to utilise this strange property.
Next to iron and ice, silicon is the most important inorganic crystalline solid to man.
This is because of its incredible electrical conductivity properties that can be controlled via chemical and electrical means.
Silicon devices – most notably the field-effect transistor – can be understood using an intuitive, classical, picture of electrons moving through the material like tiny balls: when the transistor is ‘on’ they move freely as though rolling downhill, and when it is ‘off’ it is though there is a hill blocking their path.
However, electrons are quantum entities and can be made to exist in superpositions of more than one state at once. This counterintuitive picture is not currently exploited in silicon information technologies.
The primary goal of our research programme is to develop completely new, single-atom-derived devices in silicon with functions based on quantum principles – namely those of long-lived quantum states and interactions between them and radiation fields.
We envisage devices where information can be transferred along chains of quantum entangled impurities in silicon, manipulated, and read out electrically.
We have recently demonstrated the control of quantum superpositions, and we have begun to make devices built from single atoms embedded in the silicon.