Science 3 min read

This Superconductor Material Could Overcome Quantum Decoherence

NIST scientists discovered a new superconductor that can sidestep the issue of quantum decoherence toward building robust quantum computers.

Image courtesy of Shutterstuck

Image courtesy of Shutterstuck

Engineering-wise, one of quantum computer’s most significant barriers is a thorny one known as quantum decoherence.

Qubits, the building blocks of quantum systems, are so fragile that the slightest noise from the surrounding environment such as light, magnetic fields, sound, radiation, and heat severely impacts their operationality and stability.

Quantum decoherence affects the behavior of qubits that lose the ability to entangle or stay in a superposition state to process information long enough.

Physicists have thought up of many solutions to protect quantum information from decoherence and keep qubits stable. But, recent research may have opened the door to “the silicon of the quantum age.”

Quantum Decoherence-Proof Material

In a previous research effort to overcome the issue of decoherence, scientists suggested the concept of quantum memory made of diamond strings to store qubits and increase their coherence time.

In another recent experiment, physicists showed a new possible approach to go around decoherence that allows them to increase the complexity of quantum systems with fewer qubits.

For the development of actual quantum computers (and now is their time!), a superconductor material that is readily available (cheap), easy to manipulate, and efficient as silicon for the current computer chip industry is needed.

But now, a team of physicists from the U.S. NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) may have just found that material!

This potential superconductor material is a compound called uranium ditelluride, or UTe2, that the researchers say could be used to build effective quantum logic circuits with qubits.

According to research team member Nick Butch, a physicist at the NIST Center for Neutron Research (NCNR), this compound is a “rare bird” among superconducting materials because of its unusual and strong resistance to magnetic fields.

“This is potentially the silicon of the quantum information age,” said Butch. “You could use uranium ditelluride to build the qubits of an efficient quantum computer.”

The NIST researchers were investigating the electronic properties of uranium-based magnets when they stumbled on UTe2’s unusual behaviors that they didn’t expect. Butch added:

“UTe2 had first been created back in the 1970s, and even fairly recent research articles described it as unremarkable. We happened to make some UTe2 while we were synthesizing related materials, so we tested it at lower temperatures to see if perhaps some phenomenon might have been overlooked. We quickly realized that we had something very special on our hands.”

At temperatures below -271.5 degrees Celsius, UTe2 started exhibiting its superconducting properties similar to rare ferromagnetic superconductors that act as permanent magnets at low-temperatures.

Yet, UTe2 is not ferromagnetic. “That makes UTe2 fundamentally new for that reason alone.” 

The study, published in the journal Science, also involved researchers from the University of Maryland and Ames Laboratory.

Read More: Toward High-Temp Superconductors for Faster, More Efficient Quantum Computers

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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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