Questions for ‘Here’s why scientists want a good quantum computer’ 

a circular structure with a shiny gold metal supports and silvery white wires runing throughout - it almost looks like a chandelier. At the very bottom there is a dark rectangle that all the wires seem to connect to, the quantum-processing chip.

A quantum computer may look like a futuristic sculpture, but most of what you see is machinery used to keep the device a hair above absolute zero. The part that does the computing is the small rectangle near the bottom.

Satoshi Kawase, for IBM/IBM Research/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0 DEED)

To accompany Here’s why scientists want a good quantum computer’  


Before Reading:

  1. Consider the term “quantum computer.” Based on your current knowledge, how do you think a quantum computer differs from a classical computer in computing power? To what extent do you believe quantum computers are solving real-world problems today? Do you think it is common or uncommon for technology companies to use quantum computers?
  2. To the best of your understanding, what is light made of?

During Reading:

  1. In one sentence, explain the temperature scientists call “absolute zero.”
  2. What is the name of Google’s quantum system?
  3. Give two examples of “complex problems” that experts hope quantum computers will someday help to solve.
  4. Quantum computers today have limitations that classical computers do not have. Why are quantum computers generally not good at tasks that require lots of computer memory?
  5. Contrast 17th-century Isaac Newton’s theory on the nature of light with that of scientists in the 18th and 19th centuries.
  6. How did Albert Einstein change our understanding of light?
  7. The idea of superposition says that a photon can exist in more than one “state” at a time. Give an example of what might be meant by different “states.”
  8. How is a computer “bit” like a switch? How do quantum bits — or “qubits”— differ from classical computer bits?
  9. How does a prime number differ from non-prime numbers? Give one example of a prime number.
  10. Explain how a modern encryption tool might rely upon prime numbers.

After Reading:

  1. In your own words, explain what Kayla Lee means when she says that some news articles oversell quantum computers’ possibilities. If it is true that the public generally has unreasonably high expectations for quantum computers, how might this misconception cause problems for companies working to develop such technologies?
  2. Refer to the concept of quantum entanglement described in this story. How might two photons become “entangled”? How do our experiments regarding quantum-entangled photons cause scientists to question our current understanding of light? Use the idea of quantum-entangled photons to explain what physicist Richard Feynman meant when he said, “I think I can safely say no one understands quantum mechanics.”