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'Seeing' the quantum world
Computer animation used to help explain mysteries of quantum physics
19 Dec 2008 -
physics is both mysterious and difficult to grasp. Barry Sanders,
director of the University of Calgary's Institute for Quantum
Information Science, is hoping to change that. Sanders, who is also the
iCORE Chair of Quantum Information Science, has produced a four-minute
animated movie with a team of animators and scientists. The film is
intended for funding agencies, the public, and interdisciplinary teams
building quantum computers, so they can see how a quantum computer
would work and its underlying science.
For the first
time, a detailed description on the making of Sanders' animation —
Solid State Quantum Computer in Silicon — was published in the New
Journal of Physics . This issue is devoted to the leading uses of
visualization in astrophysics, biophysics, geophysics, medical physics
and quantum physics and Sanders is one the guest editors for this issue.
"The goal of our animated movie about the quantum computer is to convey
to a non-expert audience the nature of quantum computation: its power,
how it would work, what it would look like," says Sanders, who also has
an article published in Physics World on the making of his four-minute
"The animation incorporates state-of-the-art
techniques to show the science and the technology in the most accurate
and exciting way possible while being true to the underlying principles
of quantum computing," says Sanders. The animated movie was completed
last year but the clips have not been publicly distributed before now.
Quantum computers harness the power of atoms and molecules and have the
potential to calculate significantly faster than any existing computer
could. Some hard computational problems that can't be solved ever by
foreseeable computers become easily solved on quantum computers, which
could make today's secure communication obsolete. Basic quantum
computers that can perform certain calculations exist; but a practical
quantum computer is still years away.
"There is a history
of simple visualization over the last century to convey quantum
concepts," says Sanders. He notes that Erwin Schrödinger introduced his
eponymous cat, which is left in a tragic state of being in a
superposition of life and death, an illustration of the strangeness of
quantum theory. And the uncertainty principle associated with Werner
Heisenberg and his fictional gamma ray microscope, has found its way
into common English parlance.
"The imagery of the early
days of quantum mechanics played a crucial role in understanding and
accepting quantum theory. Our work takes this imagery a quantum leap
forward by using the state-of-the-art animation techniques to explain
clearly and quickly the nature of quantum computing which is, by its
very nature, counterintuitive."