A team of Aussie researchers has managed to create a tiny supercomputer made out of 300 atoms hovering in space.
When the computer is fully operational, its performance could only be matched by an impossibly large machine the size of several planets.
Michael Biercuk, a Sydney physicist, said that the gear was called a quantum simulator and made from 300 charged beryllium atoms suspended in space by a trap of magnetic and electric fields. Their interactions can be controlled by lasers.
The atoms spin clockwise within the trap and the technique has the potential to perform calculations that would require a supercomputer larger than the size of the known universe.
Biercuk said the tiny device was like that of a scale model of an aircraft wing, which engineers might test in a wind tunnel to try to design a better plane.
It means that researchers don't have to write complex programs to work out what particle is going where, and if the cat is dead or alive or just playing backgammon with his feline mates in the Rose and Crown, North Parade, Oxford.
Once you get to 30 to 40 particles interacting, there is no computer in the world that can simultaneously represent all the different possibilities of how those particles interact, Dr Biercuk said.
The gear, built by a team led by Joseph Britton of the US National Institute of Standards and Technology, has broken the record for the number of interacting elements in a programmable quantum simulator.
Of course we are not likely to see anything using the technology for another 10 to 20 years.