Building a better quantum bit: A new quantum success could transform quantum computing

An illustration of the qubit platform made of a single electron on solid neon.  Researchers froze neon gas into a solid at very low temperatures, sprayed electrons from a light bulb on the solid, and captured a single electron there to create a kbit.  (Courtesy of Dafei Jin / Argonne National Laboratory)
An illustration of the qubit platform made of a single electron on solid neon. Researchers froze neon gas into a solid at very low temperatures, sprayed electrons from a light bulb on the solid, and captured a single electron there to create a kbit. (Courtesy of Dafei Jin / Argonne National Laboratory)

You are definitely looking at this article on a digital device whose basic unit of information is the bit, or 0 or 1. Scientists worldwide are running to develop a new kind of computer based on the use of quantum bits, or quits that can simultaneously. be 0 and 1 and could someday solve complex problems beyond some classic supercomputers.

A team led by researchers at the Argonne National Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), in close collaboration with FAMU-FSU College of Associate Engineering Professor of Mechanical Engineering Wei Guo, announced the creation of a new kbita platform that shows great promise to evolve to future quantum computers. Their work is published in Nature.

FAMU-FSU College of Engineering Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Wei Guo
FAMU-FSU College of Engineering Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Wei Guo

“Quantum computers could be a revolutionary tool for performing calculations that are virtually impossible for classic computers, but there is still work to be done to make them a reality,” said Guo, a paper co-author. “With this research, we think we have a success that goes a long way in creating kbit that helps realize the potential of this technology.”

The team created its qubit by freezing neon gas into a solid at very low temperatures, spraying electrons from a light bulb onto the solid and trapping a single electron there.

Although there are many choices of kbittypes, the team chose the simplest – single electron. Warming up a simple light filament like you might find in a children’s toy can easily shoot out an unlimited supply of electrons.

One important quality for quits is their ability to stay in a simultaneous 0 or 1 state for a long time, known as its “coherent time”. That time is limited, and the limit is determined by the way kbit interacts with its environment. Defects in the qubit system can significantly reduce the coherence time.

Therefore, the team chose to capture an electron on an ultra-pure solid neon surface in a vacuum. Neon is one of only six inert elements, which means it does not react with other elements.

“Because of this inertia, solid neon can act as the purest possible solid in a vacuum to house and protect certain quits from disruption,” said Dafei Jin, an Argonne scientist and the project’s lead researcher.

Using a chip-scale superconducting resonator – such as a miniature microwave oven – the team was able to manipulate the captured electrons, allowing them to read and store information from the ulna, making it useful for use in future quantum computers.

Previous research has used liquid helium as the medium to hold electrons. This material was easy to make free of defects, but vibrations of the liquid-free surface could easily disturb the electron state and therefore jeopardize the efficiency of the kbit.

Solid neon offers a material with few defects that does not vibrate like liquid helium. After building its platform, the team conducted real-time quit operations using microwave photos on a captured electron and characterized its quantum features. These tests proved that solid neon provided a robust environment for the electron with very low electrical noise to disturb it. Most importantly, the quibit has achieved coherence times in the quantum state competitive with other high-end quibits.

The simplicity of the qubit platform should also lend itself to simple, inexpensive manufacturing, Jin said.

The promise of quantum computing lies in the ability of this next-generation technology to calculate certain problems much faster than conventional computers. Researchers aim to combine long coherent times with the ability of multiple quits to bind together – known as involvement. Quantum computers could thus find the answers to problems that a classical computer would take many years to solve.

Consider a problem where researchers want to find the lowest energy setting of a protein made from many amino acids. These amino acids can fold in billions of ways that no classic computer has the memory to handle. With quantum computing, involved quizzes can be used to create an overlay of all foldable configurations – providing the ability to control all possible responses at once and solve the problem more efficiently.

“Researchers would only need to do one calculation, instead of trying billions of possible settings,” Guo said.

The team published its findings in a Nature article titled “Single electrons on solid neon as a solid-state qubit platform.” In addition to Jin, Argonne contributors include first author Xianjing Zhou, Xufeng Zhang, Xu Han, Xinhao Li and Ralu Divan. University of Chicago contributors were David Schuster and Brennan Dizdar. Other co-authors were Kater Murch of Washington University in St. Louis, Gerwin Koolstra of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Ge Yang of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Funding for the Argonne research primarily came from the DOE Office of Basic Energy Sciences, Argonne’s Laboratory Directed Research and Development program and the Julian Schwinger Foundation for Physics Research. Guo is supported by the National Science Foundation and the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory.

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