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In theory, quantum computers should be able to perform certain kinds of complex calculations much faster than conventional computers, and quantum-based communication could be invulnerable to eavesdropping. But producing quantum components for real-world devices has proved to be fraught with daunting challenges.

Now, a team of researchers at MIT and Harvard University has achieved a crucial long-term goal of such efforts: the ability to convert a laser beam into a stream of single photons, or particles of light, in a controlled way. The successful demonstration of this achievement is detailed in a paper published this week in the journal Nature by MIT doctoral student Thibault Peyronel and colleagues.

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