IBM researchers have taken one step closer to building a quantum computer, by making what is called a "qubit" that they can keep in its quantum state for nearly 100 microseconds, the company announced. That's at least twice as long as previous records, an important accomplishment because keeping qubits—short for "quantum bits"—in a quantum state is the biggest challenge in creating these futuristic computers. IBM presented their results Feb. 28 at the annual American Physical Society meeting in Boston, Mass.

A quantum computer would be much more powerful than even the fastest supercomputers today. In less than a day, it could crack security codes that would take today's computers years or even eons to penetrate. A quantum computer could also solve presently unsolvable mathematical equations and help scientists better understand quantum mechanics, as InnovationNewsDaily reported from the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The secret is in the unusual way that particles act at a quantum level. Computers now store information in bits, which can exist in either a "0" or "1" state. On the other hand, quantum particles such as electrons can exist as "0" or "1" or both, a state called "quantum superposition." Quantum superposition helps particles store much more information than traditional bits. Just 250 qubits can store more bits of information than there are atoms in the universe, according to IBM.

The trouble with qubits is they don't tend to hold their unusual quantum state for very long. Heat, electromagnetic radiation and defects in materials—all things that are common inside computers—can disturb particles so they "decohere," introducing errors into the calculations they're performing. For a quantum computer to work, its particles need to stay coherent long enough to make calculations that are accurate enough, so that correctors can fix any errors.

Building on work originally done at Yale University, IBM researchers created a 3-dimensional qubit made of superconducting silicon, which they think should be easy to scale up for large-scale manufacturing. They then maintained the qubit in a quantum state for 95 microseconds, while keeping it cooled to two-hundredths of a degree above absolute zero.

IBM has also been working on 2-dimensional qubit devices, where the qubits sit on a silicon chip. These qubits stayed coherent for almost 10 microseconds and performed calculations to 95 percent accuracy.

For a look into IBM's quantum computing lab, check out this video by IBM:

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