European quantum physicists have done some amazing things over the past few decades: sent single photons to Earth orbit and back, created quantum bits that will be at the heart of computers that can crack today's encryption, and "teleported" the quantum states of photons, electrons, and atoms. But they've had less success at turning the science into technology. At least that's the feeling of some 3,400 scientists who signed the "Quantum Manifesto," which calls for a big European project to support and coordinate quantum-tech R&D. The European Commission heard them, and answered in May with a 1 billion, 10-year-long megaproject called the Quantum Technology Flagship, to begin in 2018. "Europe had two choices: either band together and compete, or forget the whole thing and let others capitalize on research done in Europe," says Anton Zeilinger, a physicist at the University of Vienna who did breakthrough work in quantum teleportation, which would be key to a future Internet secured by quantum physics.
A year ago this week, Chinese physicists launched the world's first quantum satellite. Unlike the dishes that deliver your Howard Stern and cricket tournaments, this 1,400-pound behemoth doesn't beam radio waves. Instead, the physicists designed it to send and receive bits of information encoded in delicate photons of infrared light. It's a test of a budding technology known as quantum communications, which experts say could be far more secure than any existing info relay system. They've kept the satellite busy.
That might not sound like much, but in the quantum computing arms race, several groups are edging past one another as they aim to eventually make a universal quantum computer. A group of researchers at the Joint Quantum Institute has created a quantum simulator using 53 quantum bits, or qubits. Earlier this month, IBM announced a 50-qubit prototype, though its capabilities are unclear. With this 53-qubit device, the researchers have done scientific simulations that don't seem to be possible
The first third of the 20th century saw the collapse of many absolutes. Albert Einstein's 1905 special relativity theory eliminated the notion of absolute time, while Kurt Gödel's 1931 incompleteness theorem questioned the notion of absolute mathematical truth. Most profoundly, however, quantum mechanics raised doubts on the notion of absolute objective reality. Is Schrödinger's cat dead or alive? Nearly 100 years after quantum mechanics was introduced, scientists still are not in full agreement on what it means.