The team confined the atoms in an "optical lattice" of laser beams and put them in a "clock transition state," which meant they basically ignored magnetic fields. These two approaches, together, kept the atoms from interacting with anything else for long enough to extend the lifetime of the quantum phase information they stored within the atoms.
In fact, two different teams performed similar work, both in the December 7 issue of Nature Physics (but require payment to access - not my rule, talk to Nature).
This new record is enough time that scientists can begin looking at ways to transfer the information within the system through an optical network, and possibly eventually quantum computers. Of course, as with all breakthroughs in this realm, there are still a lot of different concepts which still have to fall into place before a useful quantum computer or quantum communication system is constructed.
- What is a Quantum Computer?
- Nature Physics - Table of Contents (access to the letters themselves costs)
- ScienceDaily.com - Physicists Set New Record For Quantum Memory Storage and Retrieval
- A Case for Quantum Cryptography
- Building a Faster Qubit
- Still More on Quantum Computers
- Quantum Encryption Through Space