The first quantum processor is born

The first quantum processor is born

A challenge launched some 60 years ago by theoretical physicist Richard Feynman has been solved.

A team of quantum computing physicists from UNSW Sydney have successfully mimicked the structure and energy states of a specific organic compound. Scientists have designed an atomic-scale quantum system. His mission ? Simulate the behavior of a small organic molecule called polyacetylene.

Concretely, these Australian scientists have created a circuit that could be defined as the first quantum processor. To understand the scope of this invention, let’s start with some definitions.

Understand the basics

A processor can be compared to the brain of the computer. It takes care of managing the data exchanges between the different components. Namely, between the hard disk, the RAM memory and the graphics card. In addition, it is he who performs the calculations allowing the device to interact with the user and display information on the screen. For their part, quantum technologies represent the methods and systems created to invent tools whose operation is based on one of the quantum properties. Namely, the quantum superposition of states of a physical object and quantum entanglement. We are talking about particle physics of the infinitely small, in which the Rydberg atoms, specific to quantum computers, interact.

In short, quantum technology makes it possible to solve problems of great complexity and to process series of information in bulk. This is because, unlike conventional computers which store and process data in the form of binary bits (0 or 1), quantum machines use “qubits”, also called “quantum bits”. They have extraordinary computing power.

Finally, polyacetylene is a repeating chain of carbon and hydrogen atoms. It is distinguished by the alternation of single and double carbon bonds. A double bond is a bond between chemical elements involving four electrons, against two for a single bond.

A big step for quantum physics

This processor represents a significant step in the race to build the first quantum computer. Clearly, these physicists have succeeded in controlling the quantum states of electrons and atoms in silicon to a level never before achieved. Indeed, quantum states are very sensitive to external interferences. A defect that can cause errors and that limits their scope and use so far.

Specifically, in the article in the journal Nature, the researchers describe how they managed to imitate the structure and energy states of the organic compound polyacetylene. “If you go back to the 1950s, Richard Feynman said you can’t understand how nature works unless you can build matter on the same length scale”, recalls Professor Simmons in the paper. This is how the researchers constructed material that mimics the polyacetylene molecule. And this, “by putting atoms in silicon with the exact distances that represent single and double carbon-carbon bonds”. He concludes that this means that it is now possible to begin to understand more and more complicated molecules, “putting the atoms in place as if they were mimicking the real physical system”.

Towards a quantum computer

This is how the team announced that they had achieved an error rate of less than 1%. Indeed, its silicon-based systems make it possible to envisage the production of quantum machines using existing infrastructures. “We can now make bigger devices that go beyond what a typical computer can model”, rejoices Professor Simmons. In other words, it is now possible to observe molecules that have not been simulated before, and therefore, to “understanding the world in a different way, addressing fundamental questions that we have never been able to answer before”he adds.

As we have seen, quantum systems need qubits. It is a structure in the device, which helps to form the quantum state. In the processor discussed in this article, the atoms themselves create these qubits. “We only needed six metal gates to control the electrons in our 10-point system. In other words, we have fewer gates than there are active components of the device”, says the researcher. This reduces the elements formerly necessary in the circuits. Indeed, normally most quantum computing architectures need at least double the control systems to move the electrons in the qubit architecture.

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