Technology 4 min read

New Silicon Structure a Huge Leap Toward Scalable Quantum Computers

Sakkmesterke |

Sakkmesterke |

Researchers have created a silicon-based hardware that can act as a quantum gate between qubits, a breakthrough that would make quantum computers easier to develop and less expensive to manufacture.

Because of an architecture that is largely based on the confounding properties of quantum particles and the laws of quantum physics, quantum computing systems have the potential to be much more powerful than current computers.

While the most basic component of conventional computers and supercomputers are binary bits (which can hold a value of 1 or 0), quantum computers use “qubits” to process large quantities of calculations much faster than is physically possible in a normal computer. A qubit can be both 1 and 0 at the same time.

However, wiring up dozens of qubits is much more challenging than integrating millions, or even billions, of tiny silicon transistors on a chip.

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We’re Good at Innovating, But Not So Much at Scaling Up

When it comes to next-gen solutions, it’s almost as if we have more challenge in scaling up innovative ideas than coming up with them in the first place.

At least that is the case with quantum computing, which, though proven to work, is still confined to research labs and seems to have a long way to go before hitting the market in any form of commercial product.

A big engineering hurdle in building quantum computers is that qubits are particularly fragile and so they need to be individually isolated in closed environments with very low temperatures. They also need to be shielded from any external influences, such as radiation.

Large computer manufacturers, tech companies, and startups have all been working for years on quantum computers with each company taking a severely different approach on how to build these quantum bits.

Recently there has been a litany of announcements about quantum systems with up to 51 qubits. However, amazing as this development may seem, all of the methods used rely on exotic and expensive superconducting materials and deeply complex techniques.

The time for engineers to go back to the drawing board may have arrived, as it seems that a proverbial wall has been hit in the complex development of these qubits. One of the most feasible solutions that has been brought forward to overcome this issue is for developers and engineers to begin to think of building quantum processors out of readily available materials. This would both cut costs of producing these processors while also overcoming major manufacturing issues.

Engineers from Princeton University have tackled this problem and have arrived at the solution of using none other than silicon to make qubits.

New Wine in Old Bottles: Building Quantum Chips Using Silicon

One of the main projects of Petta Group, based at Princeton University, is using silicon to build quantum computing architecture.

The research team, headed by Jason Petta, professor of physics, claims that they have designed a silicon-based piece of hardware that causes electrons to act as qubits.

To create the two-qubit gate, the team integrated aluminum wires onto a layer of silicon crystal. Voltage is then delivered by these tiny wires which creates an energy barrier that separates two electrons. This allows them to become “entangled” and generate quantum behavior.

“We knew we needed to get this experiment to work if silicon-based technology was going to have a future in terms of scaling up and building a quantum computer,” said professor Petta. “The creation of this high-fidelity two-qubit gate opens the door to larger scale experiments.”

The study (Resonantly driven CNOT gate for electron spins) has been published in the journal Science.

Many research efforts are exploring silicon-based qubits to solve the scalability issue that’s holding quantum computers back from widescale development, such as the comically named “flip-flop qubits”. The U.S. government-funded Sandia National Laboratories is currently conducting a three-year research project to build silicon-based quantum dots or qubits.

Do you think this is the quantum leap that developers have been waiting for across decades? Or is it just another brick in the long road towards commercially available quantum computers? Give us your opinion in the comments section below. 

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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