### You can’t build these gates with Lego!

Researchers at Oxford University have set a new speed record for the ‘logic gates’ that form the building blocks of quantum computing – a technology that has the potential to dwarf the processing power of today’s classical computers.

The Oxford team is using a trapped-ion technique to develop its computer, in which logic gates place two charged atoms – containing information in the form of quantum bits, or *qubits* – in a state of quantum entanglement.

Described by Einstein as ‘spooky’, entanglement means that the properties of the two atoms stay linked, even when they are separated by great distances. The research builds on previous work in which the team, led by Professor David Lucas and Professor Andrew Steane (above) of Oxford’s Department of Physics, achieved a world record for the precision of the logic gate, reaching the demanding accuracy set by theoretical models of quantum computing.

The lead authors of the paper are Oxford doctoral student Vera Schäfer, and Dr Chris Ballance, a research fellow at Magdalen College, Oxford.

Vera Schäfer said: ‘Quantum computing will be ideally suited for tasks such as factorising large numbers or simulating complex reactions between molecules to help with drug development. Previous work in our group produced quantum logic gates with record-breaking precision. We then began work on increasing the speed of those gates without compromising their accuracy, which is tricky.

‘Trapped ions move like a pendulum during the gate operation, but when this process is sped up they become sensitive to a number of factors that cause errors.

‘By making use of a technique that precisely shapes the force on the ions such that the gate performance becomes robust to these factors, we were able to increase the speed by a factor of 20 to 60 compared with the previous best gates – 1.6 microseconds long, with 99.8% precision. [One *microsecond* is to one second as one second is to 11.574 days]

‘We have now produced the highest fidelity and the fastest gate, reaching a point where our gates are in principle good enough for quantum computing. The next step is to think about it in practical terms and work towards scaling up our system to create a viable quantum computer.’

### A space bus was heading your way!

Launched in 2011, Tiangong 1 was China’s first space station, serving as an experimental platform for bigger projects.

The European Space Agency forecast that the bus-sized station, whose name translates as “Heavenly Palace,” would re-enter sometime this morning NZT. The Chinese space agency said it should happen during the course of today Beijing time.

Based on the space station’s orbit, it was supposed to come back to Earth somewhere 43 degrees north and 43 degrees south, a range covering most of the United States, China, Africa, southern Europe, Australia and South America. Out of range are Russia, Canada and northern Europe (so you guys are OK). The chances of any one being hit by debris were considered less than *one in a trillion*. So, by H3’s calculations, that excluded most of us! [Side Note: Lottie Williams is still the only person known to have been hit by falling space debris. She was struck, but not injured, by a falling piece of a US Delta II rocket while exercising in an Oklahoma park in 1997.]

Note: a trillion has 12 zeros – that is, 1,000,000,000,000! So, a trillion is a thousand times one billion (9 zeros). That’s a very large number! Check out this 9min video to get an idea of what these big numbers look like when using $US100 bills:

The “bus” pulled up near Tahiti – phew, that was close!

### Why are Prime Numbers so Important?

Prime numbers are cool. As Carl Sagan points out so eloquently in the novel *Contact*, there’s a certain importance to their status as the most fundamental building block of all numbers, which are themselves the building blocks of our understanding of the universe. Whether it’s communicating your credit card information to Amazon, logging into your bank, or sending a manually encrypted email to a colleague, we are constantly using computer encryption. And that means we are constantly using prime numbers, and relying on their odd numerical properties for protection of the cyber-age way of life.

Read more at extremetech.com

### Pi Day comes first in NZ

Yes, it’s true – Pi Day does come early in New Zealand, and a day later for our students in the USA. Other than being able to find your birthday in Pi, why is Pi important enough to deserve a day of its own — and a search engine to draw attention to it? Click on the diagram to find out:

And don’t forget to check out the amazing Damiel Tammet, who learned Pi to 22,000 decimal places in just one sitting! As one student said,

“*WOW!!!!!!. Daniel along with Kim Peek absolutely FASCINATE ME!!!!!!!!. I have an above average IQ. I’m good at Math & memorization. I also see numbers as well as the Months of the year as Colors as well. I once memorized the first 104 digits of Pi in 2 hours or so but 22,000 after reading them once…………..GEEZ. MAJOR RESPECT & ADMIRATION*!!!!!!!”

More about Daniel on Wikipedia here.

### Bletchley Park – Home of the Codebreakers

It was amazing. We had someone visit us recently who’s mother worked at Bletchley Park – home of the famous code breakers of World War II. Of course, her mother never told anyone – not even her husband – about the work she did. She had been a bright, young banker, and was selected for her fast and accurate mind.

Now a historic treasure, Bletchley Park has an excellent collection of online resources for the student fascinated by the exploits of those responsible for cracking (and making their own) secret codes during WWII.

This site is an opportunity to explore the different types of machines and codes that were using during World War Two, and even listen to personal stories of the hard, hot work done at Bletchley – “It was like making butter…” Discover the mathematicians who helped crack the incredible number of combinations they were faced with:

John Herivel was a mathematician who made a breakthrough in the search for a way to get into the German Enigma codes. “At the time that Herivel started work at Bletchley Park, Hut 6 was having only limited success with Enigma-enciphered messages, mostly from the Luftwaffe Enigma network known as “Red”. He was working alongside David Rees, another Cambridge mathematician recruited by Welchman, in nearby Elmers School, testing candidate solutions and working out plugboard settings. The process was slow, however, Herivel was determined to find a method to improve their attack, and he would spend his evenings trying to think up ways to do so.” Read more details about Herivel’s work on Wikipedia.

### When will I ever use this Mathematics stuff???

I was asked a very good question in class recently. “*When will I ever use this Mathematics that I am doing?*” one student asked me, and it was a genuine question, not an attempt to get out of classwork! My reply was something like this – “*You probably never will use it – at least not the exact work we are doing. However, because you make a real effort to solve these problems in class, you are more likely to want to work through problems in life – in your home and in your work.*” Of course, there are so many different careers that require a foundation of mathematical skills. For example, this one – a Psychometrician. “A what?” you might be asking?

A psychometrician is a person who practices the science of measurement, or psychometrics. Youo can check out the math requirements for this rather strange career, as well as a host more, at this great M**ath Careers** site.