circuitry onto smaller and smaller wafers of silicon. If the current rate of miniaturization
continues, computer experts predict that within a decade or two, transistors will dwindle to the
size of an atom. But at those dimensions, well-behaved, predictable classical behavior goes out
the window, and the slippery, untenable nature of quantum mechanics takes over. In the quantum
world, rather than being entities with sharply defined positions and motions, particles are
described by spread-out wavefunctions, seemingly existing in many places at once.
So it might seem that the power of computers is destined to reach a limit. But scientists
usually don't take such pronouncements at face value--in this case, they have long been aware of
a way around this apparent constraint. For within the shadowy quantum world there is more
potential computing power than the speediest processor could ever dream of. That power stems
from quantum particles' capability for existing in more than one state, as well as their ability to
become inextricably linked to each other by a phenomenon known as entanglement.
Traditional computers perform calculations, however quickly, in a basically sequential
manner. Their limitations surface in the simple, yet striking, example of factoring a large
number. The time a computer spends searching for a number's factors increases astronomically
with the size of the number. To factor a 400-digit number, for example, would take a modern
computer billions of years.
On the other hand, a computer made of quantum particles has a built-in parallelism
because quantum calculations can be performed on the particles' coexisting states
simultaneously. A quantum computer, then, might factor that 400-digit number in minutes. Such
a completely different approach to computing, it seems, truly earns the designation "paradigm
each transistor is predicted to be as small as a hydrogen atom by about 2030. At the size the
quantum nature of electrons in the atoms becomes significant. It generates errors in the
However, rather than be a hindrance, it is possible to exploit the quantum physics as a new way to do computation. And this new way opens up fantastic new computational power based on the wave nature of quantum particles.
suggested this dual particle-wave property might apply to all particles including electrons. Then in 1926 Davisson and Germer found that electrons scattered off a crystal of nickel behaved as if they were waves. Since then neutrons, atoms and even molecules have been shown to behave as waves. The waves tell us where the particle is likely to be found.
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