A group of Finnish scientists at Aalto University have made a stunning breakthrough in heat transference, and the implications are potentially revolutionary.
The discovery made by quantum physicist Mikko Möttönen and his team involves something known as “quantum-limited heat conduction,” a rather cumbersome term for, simply, the most efficient possible heat conduction from one point to another.
It may not sound like much, but it’s extremely important for many reasons, and touches upon numerous disciplines.
The super-efficient “whisking away” of heat has applications for anything that generates large quantities of waste heat, and nowhere is this more important than in the field of quantum computing.
If/when it is created, the quantum computer will represent a phase transition in the world of computing and artificial intelligence. In essence, such a machine will rely on the power of atoms and molecules, and the physical laws of quantum mechanics, to form its memory units and perform computational tasks. It can even enlist such bizarre quantum mechanical phenomena as superposition and entanglement to augment its processing power, and will surpass today’s most powerful supercomputers by many orders of magnitude.
Of course, such a computational monstrosity will generate enormous amounts of waste heat, and that is why Möttönen’s discovery is so crucial. His team developed a transmission line with zero electrical resistance, and used it to transport heat in the form of photons (i.e., infrared light).
Tiny resistors were affixed to the ends of the superconducting transmission line, and the effects of the heat transference were measured by temperature changes in these resistors.
The team managed to measure quantum-limited heat conduction over a distance of one meter, a ten-thousand-fold improvement over earlier attempts.
In the news release at Phys.org, Möttönen explains: “For computer processors, a meter is an extremely long distance. Nobody wants to build a larger processor than that.”
The Future of Computing
So what’s the meaning of it all?
Just this, and nothing more: the dream of a computer so revolutionary that it utilizes the very building blocks of matter to perform its computations, so powerful that it surpasses our greatest supercomputers a million times over, is one step closer to becoming an established reality.
The new discovery is of such importance that it was published Monday in the journal Nature Physics. Now, other researchers will replicate, tweak, and improve upon Möttönen’s process; later, computer scientists will settle down to the important task of incorporating this and other discoveries into the design of the world’s first fully functional quantum computer.
And then we can start designing its replacement.