Quantum computers may promise a giant leap forward in performance and efficiency, but none of that can happen until we figure out a practical way to build them. Russian scientists just announced what they say is a major advance.

Building quantum computers is difficult because the qubits they’re made with tend to be highly unstable. Qubits are the quantum counterpart of the bits used in traditional computing. While traditional bits represent data as 0s or 1s, qubits are distinguished by what’s known as superposition, or the ability to be both 0 and 1 at once.

Superposition is the heart of quantum computing’s exciting potential, but it’s also proved a thorny challenge. While calculations require that qubits not only maintain their state but also interact with one another, the quantum objects that have been used to create qubits — ions or electrons, for example — have so far only been able to maintain a certain quantum state for a short time. In a system with dozens or hundreds of qubits, the problem gets even trickier.

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