Week9/Guitars and Quantum Computers/Connor Petty

Nanotechnology is a fascinating subject. It is a subject of almost unlimited potential, and personally one of my favorite. There have been many advancements in the construction of nanostructures. And a humorous, but good example of such nanostructures would be the Nano-guitar.

The original Nano-guitar was created in 1997, it measured only 10 microns long and the strings measured only 50 nanometers (a mere 100 atoms) in width. It is impressive to consider the size of the guitar, considering that the diameter of a human hair is 200 microns. On might ask, “What is the point in making such a small guitar? Nobody could play it!” As it turns out, in 1997 nobody was able to play the guitar, but in late 2003, scientist were able to strum the guitar using a laser light to vibrate the strings at 40-megahertz. That’s roughly 17 octaves higher than any normal guitar, far above what could heard by a human ear. While the existence of such a guitar is not important, what is important is how it demonstrated the potential of using a high-voltage electron beam machine to craft nano scale solid body objects, in this case a guitar made from a single crystal of silicon.

But the significance of this nano scale construction technology¬† is most prominent in the area of computer architecture. Every two years, the number of transistors on a computer processing chip doubles. This is known as Moore’s law. Nanotechnology is extremely important in this field since transistors are getting smaller and smaller, and chip design must be done on a nano scale. Computer chips currently have over 1 billion transistors, this equates to nearly 1 transistor every half-mircometer squared. A question that one might ask is where this is all heading. Intersting enough, research is being done in the area of quantum computing that will revolutionize the speed and size of computers. In a normal computer bits are used to represent data as 0’s and 1’s. In a quantum computer bits are replaced with qubits that hold a 1, 0, or more importantly any quantum superposition of these states. A group of qubits could in fact represent multiple numbers at a single time through the use of superposition. The reason that quantum computers are held in such interest is that they would allow efficient implementation of certain algorithms. Shor’s algorithm is a quantum algorithm that solves number factorization in sub-exponential time. Normal algorithms for today’s computers can only preform this task in exponential time. This is extremely important since number factorization could be used to “break” the widely used public-key cryptography scheme used known as RSA. Modern day cryptography relies on the fact that attempts to break the keys would require number factorization, and since normal computers would take an obscenly long time to perform factorize the large numbers used as keys, those keys are considered safe to use. Quantum computers would make it possible to break the keys fairly quickly. This advancement in essentially “hacking” would force the advancement in crytography as well. There is much research being done in the area of quantum cryptography algorithms in order to prevent the crisis that would arise once RSA becomes breakable.

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