"What interests us here is how these quantum computers will perform when communicating with other computers. In other words, how they will transmit data via fibre optics", explained Dr. Mark Hughes, of the University of Salford.
Dr. Hughes, a material scientist specialising in internet signalling, is part of a team of UK scientists funded by the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPRSC) to look into these quantum quandaries.
Quantum physics posits that quantum systems, such as atoms, can exist in more than one state at the same time. At the atomic level, subatomic particles can, for example, spin both clockwise, and anticlockwise at the same time - the so-called superposition.
In previous research Dr. Hughes discovered that the rare-earth metal erbium can combine with silicon to enhance internet signalling, and this metal is again his focus for this two-year study.
If a quantum computer is to be built, it would most likely be based on silicon and also use erbium to interface with fibre optic communication. What is unknown is how these materials relate to the superpositions at a quantum level.
"Our task will be to establish how long these materials can stay in a superposition of state, and how long optical transitions can remain in a superposition of state", explained Mark Hughes.
"Erbium has good potential not least because rare earth atoms have an electron orbital structure that creates a barrier against interference from surroundings that can disrupt delicate superpositions of state, but we shall have to see."
Salford physicists will work alongside the universities of Surrey, UCL, Manchester and the National Physical Laboratory on the project.