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Using a laser to place individual rubidium atoms near the surface of a lattice of light, scientists at MIT and Harvard University have developed a new method for connecting particles—one that could help in the development of powerful quantum computing systems.

The new technique, described in a paper published today in the journal Nature, allows researchers to couple a lone atom of rubidium, a metal, with a single photon, or light particle. This allows both the atom and photon to switch the quantum state of the other particle, providing a mechanism through which quantum-level computing operations could take place.

Moreover, the scientists believe their technique will allow them to increase the number of useful interactions occurring within a small space, thus scaling up the amount of quantum computing processing available.

"This is a major advance of this system," says Vladan Vuletic, a professor in MIT's Department of Physics and Research Laboratory for Electronics (RLE), and a co-author of the paper. "We have demonstrated basically an atom can switch the phase of a photon. And the photon can switch the phase of an atom."

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