Physicists Just Invented an Essential Component Needed For Quantum Computers

Last year three British scientists won the Nobel Prize in Physics for their amazing work on superconductors and superfluids, which included the explanation of a rather odd phase of matter.

Besides being a remarkable discovery, it also had a practical application – shrinking an electrical component that will help quantum computers reach a scale that just might make them useful.

A team of scientists from the University of Sydney in collaboration with Stanford University in the USA and Microsoft, have found a way to use this newly discovered phase of matter in shrinking an electrical component called circulator to one thousand times smaller.

When it comes to squeezing more qubits into a small space, this is wonderful news.

The three physicists discovered that some material can easily conduct electrons on their surface under certain conditions, by still remaining an insulator from the inside. But even more importantly, they found out that there are cases where matter transitioned between states without breaking symmetry, as it usually happens when water atoms rearrange into ice or vapor.

A qubit is a chunky place of electrons that uses the probabilities of an unmeasured bit of matter to perform calculations normal computers can’t match, and these qubits can be made in variety of ways. The real challenge is shrinking qubits to a size small enough that could fit hundreds of thousands into a small-enough space.

“Even if we had millions of qubits today, it is not clear that we have the classical technology to control them. Realizing a scaled-up quantum computer will require the invention of new devices and techniques at the quantum-classical interface”, says David Reilly, a physicist at the University of Sydney and Director of Microsoft Station Q.

This device is called a circulator and it can ensure information heads in one direction only. Previously the smallest device was small enough to fit into the palm of your hand and now scientists have shown a magnetized wafer made of a particular topological insulator that could be made 1,000 times smaller than existing components.

“Such compact circulators could be implemented in a variety of quantum hardware platforms, irrespective of the particular quantum system used,” says the study’s lead author, Alice Mahoney.

If scientist keep making these improvements, it won’t be long until we’ll be bringing you news of quantum computers cracking problems which leave our best supercomputers gasping.


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