I just wanted to take a minute from dissertation-writing to share this:
If you aren’t astounded, you should watch it again. Those are single carbon monoxide molecules – if you laid a thousand frames of the film side-by-side, you’d have something about as wide as a human hair. You might not find this stuff as exciting as I do, but I assure you that this kind of thing is going to be big in the coming decades (single trapped atoms that is, not stop-motion animation).
Trapped particles (like the atoms in the video) can potentially form the foundation of the quantum computer. The ‘building block’ of a modern computer is a transistor – a piece of semiconducting material around 50 nanometres across; roughly 500 times bigger than an atom. Transistors store the ‘bits’ in the computer with which you are currently reading this – they can either store 0, or 1. About 8000 of these transistors store one kilobyte’s worth of information, so say about 20 to 30 million will store one MP3 track.
Research centres like IBM and scores of academic institutions are working on taking the role of the transistor and implementing it into single atoms, or qubits – using their ‘quantum states’ to store the 0 or 1. As you might imagine, it isn’t easy (a ‘bit’ of an understatement – weeeeey), but if they can achieve it it’ll provide the means to scale the size of computer chips down by at least 100x. I’ll leave it to you to think of the potential applications.