Quantum computers that manipulate subatomic particles to perform lightning-fast calculations came closer to reality recently when a Japanese team demonstrated that it had created a quantum circuit that could control the building blocks of atoms.

The team, from NEC , the Japan Science and Technology Agency ( JST ) and the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research ( RIKEN ), made the breakthrough by learning how to control the coupling strength of two quantum bits, or qubits. This is seen as a breakthrough in the way the first electronic circuit led to all modern computers.

Although the research is still in its infancy, any future computers based on qubits would far exceed the computational power of today's supercomputers. One of the barriers the team had to deal with was handling the phenomenon of superposition, which allows quantum particles to appear in multiple places simultaneously.