UNSW engineers have made a quantum leap forwards in their complete design for a quantum computer chip. The team at the University of New South Wales UNSW) in Sydney, Australia last month unveiled their new design of the chip that integrates quantum interactions in the journal Nature Communications.
Engineers across the world continue to look for new ways to design a working computer chip that can integrate quantum interactions. The Australian and Dutch engineers behind the new design at UNSW believe they have cracked the problem, utilizing mostly standard silicon technology. The innovative chip employs original architecture that enables quantum calculations to be performed using existing semiconductor components, also known as CMOS (complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor) – the foundation for all modern chips.30-qubi
The new quantum computer chip was the result of a collaboration between Andrew Dzurak, director of the Australian National Fabrication Facility at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), and Menno Veldhorst, lead author of the paper who was a research fellow at UNSW during the conceptual work. UNSW has one of the leading quantum compositions in the globe.
In an article on the university website, Dzurak explained to the journalist that “we are on the verge of another technological leap [the first being the invention of the microprocessor chip] that could be as deep and transformative. But a complete engineering design to realise this on a single chip has been elusive. I think what we have developed at UNSW now makes that possible. And most importantly, it can be made in a modern semiconductor manufacturing plant,” he added.
Veldhorst, now a team leader in quantum technology at QuTech – a collaboration between Delft University of Technology and TNO, the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research, added that the new design for the very first time, charts an engineering pathway toward creating millions of quantum bits, or qubits.
“Remarkable as they are, today’s computer chips cannot harness the quantum effects needed to solve the really important problems that quantum computers will. To solve problems that address major global challenges – like climate change or complex diseases like cancer – it’s generally accepted we will need millions of qubits working in tandem. To do that, we will need to pack qubits together and integrate them, like we do with modern microprocessor chips. That’s what this new design aims to achieve”, said Veldhorst.
Quantum computers can expand the vocabulary of binary code used in standard computing through ‘entanglement’ and ‘superposition’. Qubits can store a 0, a 1, or an arbitrary pairing of 0 and 1 simultaneously. Similarly, it can process them simultaneously. This will make a universal quantum computer to be millions of times faster than a standard computer when solving problems. However, to be useful, the quantum computer will need a very large number of qubits, possibly millions, as all cubits are fragile, and even very small errors can be magnified into wrong answers.
“So we need to use error-correcting codes which employ multiple qubits to store a single piece of data,” said Dzurak who is also a program leader at Australia’s Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology (CQC2T). “Our chip blueprint incorporates a new type of error-correcting code designed specifically for spin qubits, and involves a sophisticated protocol of operations across the millions of qubits. It’s the first attempt to integrate into a single chip all of the conventional silicon circuitry needed to control and read the millions of qubits needed for quantum computing.”
Dzurak was also a key part of building a quantum logic gate in silicon, which made possible calculations between two qubits of information. This discovery led to another team of researchers out of UNSW, led by professor Michelle Simmons, to unlock the key to enabling quantum computer coding in silicon.
Building a universal quantum computer with this kind of capability has been described as the “space race of the 21st century”. Telstra’s chief scientist Hugh Bradlow told Financial Review last year that “who wins could well determine the future of the 21st century”. He added that when the ideal quantum computer is created, it will be able to solve problems that currently could take “longer than the entire lifetime of the universe”.
The international race is also on to get to a 30-qubit system as quickly as possible to show that calculations in a quantum system will beat a traditional computer. Simmons at UNSW believes that Australia can get there first. “We’ve invested in silicon so we think that’s going to win,” Simmons said. “There’s competition out there and it’s very interesting to see how that competition is evolving.”