Australian researchers have announced the manufacturing of a quantum circuit at an atomic scale, claiming it integrates all the necessary components of a classical computer chip but at a much, much smaller scale.
Once assembled, the tiny processor was able to complete a tough task that classical computers struggle to complete, marking a significant breakthrough in the pursuit of scalable and practical quantum computing.
“This is a major breakthrough,” says Silicon Quantum Computing (SQC) founder, Michelle Simmons AO, in a statement.
“Today’s classical computers struggle to simulate even relatively small molecules due to the large number of possible interactions between atoms. Development of SQC’s atomic-scale circuit technology will allow the company and its customers to construct quantum models for a range of new materials, whether they be pharmaceuticals, materials for batteries, or catalysts. It won’t be long before we can start to realise new materials that have never existed before.”
Published in Nature, creating an integrated circuit at an atomic scale is the result of two decades of research, building on principles described by the acclaimed Professor Richard Feynman. An atomic-scale circuit uses quantum dots – tiny semiconductors made of silicon just a few nanometers in size – to process information, and fabricating these at such a small scale requires impressive engineering.
First, the researchers from the University of New South Wales and Silicon Quantum Computing needed to create uniform dots that could align to pass information between them. Next, each dot needs to be programmable to different energy levels, while also working as part of a larger unit of many dots. Finally, the dots cannot become too close together, or else electrons would not be able to pass along them, so the distance between each must be incredibly precise to maintain their independence.
Once created, the processor was put to the test by modeling the quantum states of the organic compound polyacetylene, a task that would take current computers a huge length of time. The processor successfully completed the task, demonstrating it was functional.
“The exquisite precision of the device validates SQC’s technical strategy to focus on quality as opposed to quantity. We have created a superbly precise manufacturing technology that is opening the door to a whole new world. It is a huge step towards building a commercial quantum computer,” said Simmons.
Now, the researchers hope to scale the device up to even more complex tasks that current computers would be unable to solve, in the push for a practical quantum computer.
“SQC’s engineers are now scaling the technology to address more industrially relevant molecules and as a business we look forward to developing targeted industry partnerships to address their simulation needs,” SQC Chair, Stephen Menzies, said.