A calculation performed with four photon qubits proves that a promising quantum algorithm works.

It’s only three lines of simple math for a human, but a small victory for a quantum computer. Researchers in China report in Physical Review Letters that they can solve two linear equations by manipulating four entangled photons. Their demonstration—the rough equivalent of solving for $x$ and $y$ in the equations $4x+3y=6$ and $3x+2y=3$—is the first proof that a quantum algorithm proposed in 2009, which promised exponential speed-up compared to one run on a normal CPU, can be implemented in the lab.

Few quantum algorithms are actually faster than their classical counterparts. The most famous example in which quantum mechanics wins is an algorithm for factoring large numbers proposed by mathematician Peter Shor in 1994. But four years ago, theorists showed that a quantum algorithm for solving a set of linear equations could also be exponentially faster that any classical algorithm, provided you only needed to know probabilistic information about the solution—and not the exact solution itself.

To implement this algorithm, Xindong Cai, at the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei, and colleagues used a laser to prepare two pairs of entangled photons, which they spatially separated and sent down four different paths. Passing the photons through a series of logic gates effectively corresponded to the steps of solving two linear equations: inverting a $2\times 2$ matrix, multiplying it through, and calculating the two independent variables. The quantum computer is overkill for solving only two linear equations; the real advantages would come as the number of equations grows. – Jessica Thomas

Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg reminisces about the early days of the standard model of particle physics and offers advice to the next generation of model builders.

At the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, researchers described progress on balloon-borne infrasound detectors that observe seismic events on Earth and could eventually go on Venus.

Prize recognizes Arthur Ashkin, Gérard Mourou, and Donna Strickland for developing laser tools that have led to new biophysics experiments and medical technologies.

Three separate groups demonstrate the trapping of two-electron atoms in arrays of optical tweezers, opening up new opportunities for quantum simulation and many-body studies. Read More »

Nitrogen-vacancy centers in diamond are found to be more affected by local charge than expected, which has implications for the use of the defects as quantum sensors. Read More »