Silicon is at the heart of the multibillion-dollar computing industry. Now, efforts to harness the element to build a quantum processor are taking off, thanks to elegant designs from an Australian collaboration.
n July, the Centre for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology, which is based at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney, will receive the first instalment of a Aus$46-million (US$33-million) investment. The money comes from government and industry sources whose goal is to create a practical quantum computer.
At an innovation forum in London on 6 May, hosted by Nature and start-up accelerator Entrepreneur First, two physicists from a group at the UNSW pitched a plan to reach that goal. Their audience was a panel of entrepreneurs and scientists, who critiqued ideas for commercializing a range of quantum technologies, including sensors, computer security and a quantum internet as well as quantum computers.
So far, the UNSW team has demonstrated a system with quantum bits, or qubits, only in a single atom. Useful computations will require linking qubits in multiple atoms. But the team’s silicon qubits hold their quantum state nearly a million times longer than do systems made from superconducting circuits, a leading alternative, UNSW physicist Guilherme Tosi told participants at the event. This helps the silicon qubits to perform operations with one-sixth of the errors of superconducting circuits.
If the team can pull off this low error rate in a larger system, it would be “quite amazing”, said Hartmut Neven, director of engineering at Google and a member of the panel. But he cautioned that in terms of performance, the system is far behind others. The team is aiming for ten qubits in five years, but both Google and IBM are already approaching this with superconducting systems. And in five years, Google plans to have ramped up to hundreds of qubits.
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