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New quantum machines make first discoveries

Each horizontal line shows the magnetic state of a particular atom, giving researchers a snapshot of the quantum system. Data: J. Zhang et al. / University of Maryland. Graphic: E. Edwards / University of Maryland

Two teams of physicists have built the largest controlled quantum simulators yet, which allowed them to determine how matter can behave at the quantum level, something conventional supercomputers struggle to do.

Why it matters: IBM, Google, Microsoft and other companies, as well as university researchers are racing to build quantum computers. It's still an open playing field with each approach so far offering its own advantages and disadvantages. The designs used in these simulators could be one way to get there and, while restricted versions of a quantum computer, they are a step into the territory where quantum devices are thought to be able to outperform classical ones.