Quantum cloning is the process that takes an arbitrary, unknown quantum state and makes an exact copy without altering the original state in any way. Quantum cloning is forbidden by the laws of quantum mechanics as shown by the no cloning theorem. Though perfect quantum cloning is not possible, it is possible to perform imperfect cloning, where the copies have a non-unit fidelity with the state being cloned.

The quantum cloning operation is the best way to make copies of quantum information therefore cloning is an important task in quantum information processing, especially in the context of quantum cryptography. Researchers are seeking ways to build quantum cloning machines, which work at the so called quantum limit. Quantum cloning is difficult because quantum mechanics laws only allow for an approximate copy—not an exact copy—of an original quantum state to be made, as measuring such a state prior to its cloning would alter it. The first cloning machine relied on stimulated emission to copy quantum information encoded into single photons.

Scientists in China have now produced a theory for a quantum cloning machine able to produce several copies of the state of a particle at atomic or sub-atomic scale, or quantum state. A team from Henan Universities in China, in collaboration with another team at the Institute of Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, have produced a theory for a quantum cloning machine able to produce several copies of the state of a particle at atomic or sub-atomic scale, or quantum state. The advance could have implications for quantum information processing methods used, for example, in message encryption systems.

In this study, researchers have demonstrated that it is theoretically possible to create four approximate copies of an initial quantum state, in a process called asymmetric cloning. The authors have extended previous work that was limited to quantum cloning providing only two or three copies of the original state. One key challenge was that the quality of the approximate copy decreases as the number of copies increases.

The authors were able to optimize the quality of the cloned copies, thus yielding four good approximations of the initial quantum state. They have also demonstrated that their quantum cloning machine has the advantage of being universal and therefore is able to work with any quantum state, ranging from a photon to an atom. Asymmetric quantum cloning has applications in analyzing the security of messages encryption systems, based on shared secret quantum keys.

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