The future of computing may be quantum, but that future is far away, despite relatively fast-paced progress in this arena. Quantum computers could potentially outperform today’s supercomputers by leaps and bounds, solving complex problems in seconds that would take classical computers years to solve, if they could solve them at all.
Numerous groups are working to move the needle on building a quantum computer with practical applications and a scalable infrastructure. One group that continues to make headlines with its quantum research is UNSW (University of New South Wales) Sydney, www.unsw.edu.au, a university near Sydney, Australia. In the past, UNSW Sydney created an electron spin qubit with the longest lifetime ever reported in a nano-electric device—30 seconds, which is up to 16 times longer than previously reported—and they have also recently created quantum circuitry with the lowest recorded electrical noise of any semiconductor device. Building on this important research, the latest advance from Michelle Simmons, a professor at UNSW Sydney and the director of CQC2T (Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology), www.cqc2t.org, and her team of scientists involves the first demonstration of two phosphorous atom qubits (quantum bits) “talking” to each other.
Whereas classical computers rely on bits of information that exist in one of two possible states at a time—either a 0 or a 1—quantum computing leverages superposition, in which qubits of information exist in multiple states at the same time, allowing quantum computers to consider all possible solutions to a problem simultaneously. The UNSW Sydney scientists’ goal is to build a reproducible two-qubit gate—the building block for a scalable silicon-based quantum computer. Simmons and her team are taking a unique approach, creating atom qubits by precisely positioning and encapsulating individual phosphorus atoms within a silicon chip.
In this latest study, the scientists placed two qubits 16 nanometers apart in a silicon chip. Using precisely placed electrodes patterned onto the chip, Simmons and team were able to control the interactions between these two qubits so that the quantum spins of their electrons became correlated, resulting in the first observation of “controllable interactions” between two qubits. What’s more, the UNSW Sydney team has pioneered the ability to see the exact position of their qubits in the solid state.
The latest research results out of UNSW Sydney are considered a milestone for quantum computing, because the spin correlations between quantum bits are thought to be a precursor to the entangled states needed for quantum computers to solve the sorts of complex calculations that remain out of reach for today’s computers. In the future, experts believe that quantum computing will play a role in molecular modeling as well as several types of optimization problems, such as traffic flow optimization. Most likely, the most exciting applications of quantum computing are yet to be discovered. With so much experimentation and progress occurring in the space, it is an exciting time in quantum computing—one that will likely lead to key breakthroughs that will drive the space forward in the next decade and beyond.
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