The breakthrough is the latest step towards quantum computers and networks, which would allow information to be processed and transmitted faster and with smaller devices.
In traditional computer memory, an individual bit of information is stored as either a 0 or 1. Though still in the experimental phases, quantum computers work on the same basic principle, storing data in quantum bits (qubits). The difference is that thanks to the quirks of quantum mechanics, qubits can not only be either 1 or 0, but both at the same time, allowing them to hold data much more efficiently. Optical quantum devices like the new Caltech chip store and carry that information on photons of light, which are fast and secure because they have no charge or mass.
"This technology not only leads to extreme miniaturization of quantum memory devices, it also enables better control of the interactions between individual photons and atoms," says Tian Zhong, lead author of a study describing the new chip.