A discovery by engineers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) has brought researchers one step closer to making large-scale quantum computing a reality.
Australian engineers have proven repeatedly that the nation is a powerhouse when it comes to quantum computing.
Local researchers have led the way in cracking decades-old issues, and pioneered the use for quantum computers of conventional materials such as silicon, which is already the platform for all standard computers.
This new discovery is particularly groundbreaking, but to understand it first we need to dig into what quantum computing actually is.
After a quick video explainer on quantum computing? create has you covered.
Crystals and qubits
The basic building blocks of quantum computing are qubits — quantum bits — which hold and process quantum information. To work, qubits need to exist in two states at the same time. This is called a superposition state.
Qubits are extremely fragile and only operate at roughly -273°C. Since large-scale quantum computers require hundreds of qubits, these factors are significant hurdles.
A conventional silicon chip can pack thousands of bits, making it an attractive option to quantum computers. But to get into the superposition state, qubits on a silicon chip need an individual magnetic field to activate it. This is difficult when you have millions of qubits that all need their own field.
But there might finally be a solution.
In a published in Science Advances, UNSW’s Jarryd Pla, Senior Lecturer in Quantum Engineering, and Andrew Dzurak, Scientia Professor in Quantum Engineering, have found a way to make global control a reality.
Andrea Morello, another UNSW Scientia Professor of Quantum Engineering, said that the new process is similar to an MRI.
“In an MRI your entire body is subjected to an oscillating magnetic field, but the doctor is able to interrogate just a small volume of your body, by bringing it in resonance with the field” Morello told create.
“That’s what you need for global control in quantum computing, one field that can be directed at a many quantum bits, and a method to select which bits to operate.”
To do this, Pla and Dzurak developed a resonator made out of crystal. They call it a dielectric resonator. The reflections of the electromagnetic wave within the crystal can leak out and be directed to individual qubits.
So is the next step full-scale quantum computing?
Not just yet.
“This is enabling technology,” Morello said. “People who are working on large-scale quantum computing can integrate this design going forwards.”
Cementing Australia’s place on the world stage
According to Morello, Australia has been heading toward this kind of discovery for more than 20 years.
“This result and many others are a demonstration that we are at the front of the race [for quantum computing],” he said.
“The race is, however, accelerating because now, not only are other countries are involved with publicly funded research, but also there are large corporations entering the arena.”
This new state of play does have Morello worried, and he believes it’s time for Australian governments and private organisations to join the fray.
“We need to be developing sovereign capabilities particularly around manufacturing quantum computing hardware,” he said.
“We are the first country in the world to have an undergraduate bachelor’s degree in quantum engineering. So we have a pipeline of talent, and a unique opportunity to employ it by creating jobs in a booming industry.”
The pandemic and recent global tensions have accelerated this need, as the recent silicon chip drought has demonstrated.
Of course, none of this has stopped Morello from considering a future where quantum computing is the norm.
“I think it will be a very seamless transition. We won’t be carrying quantum computers in our pockets like phones, but the data centres we use at the moment will transform,” he said.
“Once that happens the possibility for numerous industries, like pharmaceuticals, finance, defense and logistics, will be incredible.”