An ancient Namibian stone could hold the key to unlocking quantum computers

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INTRO: One of the ways we can fully realize the potential of quantum computers is by basing them on both light and matter – this way, information can be stored and processed, but also travel at the speed of light. Scientists have just taken a step closer to this goal, by successfully producing the largest hybrid particles of light and matter ever created.

These quasiparticles, known as Rydberg polaritons, were made with the help of a piece of stone containing cuprous oxide (Cu2O) crystals from an ancient deposit in Namibia, one of the few places in the world where cuprous oxide has been found in gemstone quality.

The crystal retrieved from the stone was polished and thinned to less than the width of a human hair and sandwiched between two mirrors to trap light, resulting in Rydberg polaritons 100 times larger than any previously seen.

This achievement brings us closer to producing a quantum simulator that can run off these Rydberg polaritons, using quantum bits or qubits to store information in 0s, 1s, and multiple values in between – rather than just the 1s and 0s of classical computing bits.

"Making a quantum simulator with light is the holy grail of science," says physicist Hamid Ohadi, from the University of St Andrews in the UK. "We have taken a huge leap towards this by creating Rydberg polaritons, the key ingredient of it."

What makes Rydberg polaritons so special is that they switch continually from light to matter and back again. The researchers compare the light and matter to two sides of the same coin, and it's the matter side where polaritons can interact with each other... (MORE - details)

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