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Boffins at Bristol University make first ever calculation on chip using particles of light rather than circuitry

Revolutionary ‘optical computer’ taken for a test drive

The road towards super-powerful quantum computers became a little shorter today, as Scientists at the University of Bristol performed the world’s first mathematical calculation on a photonic chip – a piece of kit which uses single particles of light to transfer information as opposed to circuitry.

The computer used four photons (light particles) to calculate the prime factors of 15. While it did this at a comparatively slow speed, the potential for using optical processors in this way is huge. Since photons can themselves essentially exist in two places at once (according to Quantum Theory), using them in this way opens the door to much smaller and much more powerful computers in the future.

"This task could be done much faster by any school kid,” said PhD student, Alberto Politi, who performed the experiment along with fellow PhD student Jonathan Matthews. “But this is a really important proof-of-principle demonstration. As well as quantum computing and quantum metrology, ‘on-chip’ photonic quantum circuits could have important applications in quantum communication, since they can be easily integrated with optical fibres to send photons between remote locations.”

Many claim quantum principles will be important to advancement in the computer and wider technology sector.

The full report can be found on the University of Bristol’s website.

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