One of the biggest challenges in quantum computation is to built "fault tolerant" logic gates. In the mid-1990s it was shown that this requires the time evolution of a quantum sub-system to be controlled by the state of a second sub-system. The evolution of the first system can manifest itself in several ways, including a phase shift. In the Oxford experiment this phase shift can be geometric.

The geometric phase was predicted by Michael Berry in 1984. Basically, if the Hamiltonian describing a quantum system is changed extremely slowly, and eventually returns to its initial value, then the system acquires a quantum phase that depends on the area enclosed by the changing Hamiltonian. This is in addition to the well-known dynamical phase associated with time evolution. The geometric phase has since been detected in many different experimental systems.

Jones and co-workers performed their experiment at room temperature in a solution containing chloroform (CHCl3) labelled with carbon-13. The quantum systems were the spins on the hydrogen and carbon-13 nuclei, and the size of the geometric phase shift applied to the hydrogen nucleus depended on the spin state of the carbon-13 nucleus. However, the team stresses that the geometric approach to NMR quantum computation has "no particular advantage" over more conventional methods.