NIST's Quantum Simulator Mimics Hundreds of Qubits Interacting: The NIST simulator is basically a single layer of beryllium ions, hundreds of them stretching across a circular plane less than one millimeter in diameter hovering inside a chamber known as a Penning trap. The quantum bit--or qubit--in this case is the outermost electron of each ion, which acts as the quantum equivalent of the classical bit, the 0 or 1 (or both at the same time, in quantum context).
By cooling the ions to near absolute zero with a laser and then hammering them with carefully timed microwave and laser pulses, the NIST physicists are able to get the electrons to interact in controlled ways that mimic--at least mathematically--complex quantum systems that can’t be studied practically in the laboratory. Thus, it’s more a quantum system simulator than a true quantum computer, but it’s exciting nonetheless.
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