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Station Q Overview

Station Q is a Microsoft Research lab located on the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara focused on studies of topological quantum computing. The lab combines researchers, theorists, and experimentalists from mathematics, physics and computer science in partnership with academic and research institutions around the globe.

Microsoft’s Station Q and its collaborators are exploring theoretical and experimental approaches to creating the quantum analog of the traditional bit—the qubit. The group is led by Dr. Michael Freedman, a renowned mathematician who has won the prestigious Fields Medal, the highest honor in mathematics.

Microsoft Research is dedicated to conducting both basic and applied research in more than 55 areas of computing, including some of the most challenging computational and technical areas. Quantum computing is a promising yet challenging field of research at the intersection of computer science and physics. Devising solutions to decades-old challenges would lead to a whole new paradigm in computing enabling new kinds of computing power, and computational solutions and services that are unattainable today.

What Is Quantum Computing?

Quantum computing is a field of research that applies the principles of quantum physics and new directions in materials science to building a new type of computers that leverage quantum effects in computation. Beyond creating quantum computers, the field also includes studies of algorithms that such computers can execute.

In a conventional computer, transistors manipulate bits of information, and each bit has a value of either 1 or 0. Electrical signals and electronic components are used to represent states that are set to 1 or 0. With a quantum computer, the classical bit gives way to something called a quantum bit, or qubit.

A qubit is not represented in a transistor but in a quantum mechanical state of a particle such as photon polarization, electron spin, or in even more exotic degrees of freedom. According to the superposition principle of quantum mechanics, at any given moment the spin of an electron can simultaneously be both up and down with specified “amplitudes” that are mathematically related to the individual probability of each direction. Quantum computing uses this principle – being able to represent multiple values with a separate probability for each value – to evaluate many possible solutions simultaneously rather than one at a time.

For some problems, quantum computers will be no faster than conventional computers. But for certain types of problems, like searching databases, breaking cryptographic codes, or simulating very large, complex physical systems, quantum machines would be dramatically faster than any classical computing system.

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