Nav: Home

Stanford team brings quantum computing closer to reality with new materials

May 08, 2017

For 60 years computers have become smaller, faster and cheaper. But engineers are approaching the limits of how small they can make silicon transistors and how quickly they can push electricity through devices to create digital ones and zeros.

That limitation is why Stanford electrical engineering Professor Jelena Vuckovic is looking to quantum computing, which is based on light rather than electricity. Quantum computers work by isolating spinning electrons inside a new type of semiconductor material. When a laser strikes the electron, it reveals which way it is spinning by emitting one or more quanta, or particles, of light. Those spin states replace the ones and zeros of traditional computing.

Vuckovic, who is one of the world's leading researchers in the field, said quantum computing is ideal for studying biological systems, doing cryptography or data mining - in fact, solving any problem with many variables.

"When people talk about finding a needle in a haystack, that's where quantum computing comes in," she said.

Marina Radulaski, a postdoctoral fellow in Vuckovic's lab, said the problem-solving potential of quantum computers stems from the complexity of the laser-electron interactions at the core of the concept.

"With electronics you have zeros and ones," Radulaski said. "But when the laser hits the electron in a quantum system, it creates many possible spin states, and that greater range of possibilities forms the basis for more complex computing."

SUBHEAD: Capturing electrons

Harnessing information based on the interactions of light and electrons is easier said than done. Some of the world's leading technology companies are trying to build massive quantum computers that rely on materials super-cooled to near absolute zero, the theoretical temperature at which atoms would cease to move.

In her own studies of nearly 20 years, Vuckovic has focused on one aspect of the challenge: creating new types of quantum computer chips that would become the building blocks of future systems.

"To fully realize the promise of quantum computing we will have to develop technologies that can operate in normal environments," she said. "The materials we are exploring bring us closer toward finding tomorrow's quantum processor."

The challenge for Vuckovic's team is developing materials that can trap a single, isolated electron. Working with collaborators worldwide, they have recently tested three different approaches to the problem, one of which can operate at room temperature - a critical step if quantum computing is going to become a practical tool.

In all three cases the group started with semiconductor crystals, material with a regular atomic lattice like the girders of a skyscraper. By slightly altering this lattice, they sought to create a structure in which the atomic forces exerted by the material could confine a spinning electron.

"We are trying to develop the basic working unit of a quantum chip, the equivalent of the transistor on a silicon chip," Vuckovic said.

SUBHEAD: Quantum dots

One way to create this laser-electron interaction chamber is through a structure known as a quantum dot. Physically, the quantum dot is a small amount of indium arsenide inside a crystal of gallium arsenide. The atomic properties of the two materials are known to trap a spinning electron.

In a recent paper in Nature Physics, Kevin Fischer, a graduate student in the Vuckovic lab, describes how the laser-electron processes can be exploited within such a quantum dot to control the input and output of light. By sending more laser power to the quantum dot, the researchers could force it to emit exactly two photons rather than one. They say the quantum dot has practical advantages over other leading quantum computing platforms but still requires cryogenic cooling, so it may not be useful for general-purpose computing. However, it could have applications in creating tamper-proof communications networks.

SUBHEAD: Color centers

In two other papers Vuckovic took a different approach to electron capture, by modifying a single crystal to trap light in what is called a color center.

In a recent paper published in Nano Letters, her team focused on color centers in diamond. In nature the crystalline lattice of a diamond consists of carbon atoms. Jingyuan Linda Zhang, a graduate student in Vuckovic's lab, described how a 16-member research team replaced some of those carbon atoms with silicon atoms. This one alteration created color centers that effectively trapped spinning electrons in the diamond lattice.

But like the quantum dot, most diamond color center experiments require cryogenic cooling. Though that is an improvement over other approaches that required even more elaborate cooling, Vuckovic wanted to do better.

So she worked with another global team to experiment with a third material, silicon carbide. Commonly known as carborundum, silicon carbide is a hard, transparent crystal used to make clutch plates, brake pads and bulletproof vests. Prior research had shown that silicon carbide could be modified to create color centers at room temperature. But this potential had not yet been made efficient enough to yield a quantum chip.

Vuckovic's team knocked certain silicon atoms out of the silicon carbide lattice in a way that created highly efficient color centers. They also fabricated nanowire structures around the color centers to improve the extraction of photons. Radulaski was the first author on that experiment, which is described in another Nano Letters paper. She said the net results - an efficient color center, operating at room temperature, in a material familiar to industry - were huge pluses.

"We think we've demonstrated a practical approach to making a quantum chip," Radulaski said.

But the field is still in its early days and electron tapping is no simple feat. Even the researchers aren't sure which method or methods will win out.

"We don't know yet which approach is best, so we continue to experiment," Vuckovic said.
-end-
Editor's note: The diamond research team included Stanford faculty members Zhi-Xun Shen, the Paul Pigott Professor in Physical Sciences, professor of photon science, of physics and of applied physics, and a senior fellow at the Precourt Institute for Energy; Nicholas Melosh, an associate professor of materials science and engineering and of photon science; and Steven Chu, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor, professor of physics and of molecular and cellular physiology, and member of Stanford Bio-X and the Stanford Neurosciences Institute.

Stanford School of Engineering

Related Quantum Computing Articles:

Speeding-up quantum computing using giant atomic ions
An international team of researchers have found a new way to speed up quantum computing that could pave the way for huge leaps forward in computer processing power.
Boson particles discovery provides insights for quantum computing
Researchers working on a U.S. Army project discovered a key insight for the development of quantum devices and quantum computers.
In leap for quantum computing, silicon quantum bits establish a long-distance relationship
In an important step forward in the quest to build a quantum computer using silicon-based hardware, researchers at Princeton have succeeded in making possible the exchange of information between two qubits located relatively far apart -- about the length of a grain of rice, which is a considerable distance on a computer chip.
A platform for stable quantum computing, a playground for exotic physics
Harvard University researchers have demonstrated the first material that can have both strongly correlated electron interactions and topological properties, which not only paves the way for more stable quantum computing but also an entirely new platform to explore the wild world of exotic physics.
Diversity may be key to reducing errors in quantum computing
In quantum computing, as in team building, a little diversity can help get the job done better, computer scientists have discovered.
'Valley states' in this 2D material could potentially be used for quantum computing
New research on 2-dimensional tungsten disulfide (WS2) could open the door to advances in quantum computing.
Sound of the future: A new analog to quantum computing
In a paper published in Nature Research's journal, Communications Physics, researchers in the University of Arizona Department of Materials Science and Engineering have demonstrated the possibility for acoustic waves in a classical environment to do the work of quantum information processing without the time limitations and fragility.
Imaging of exotic quantum particles as building blocks for quantum computing
Researchers have imaged an exotic quantum particle -- called a Majorana fermion -- that can be used as a building block for future qubits and eventually the realization of quantum computers.
Virginia Tech researchers lead breakthrough in quantum computing
A team of Virginia Tech chemistry and physics researchers have advanced quantum simulation by devising an algorithm that can more efficiently calculate the properties of molecules on a noisy quantum computer.
Limitation exposed in promising quantum computing material
Physicists have theorized that a new type of material, called a three-dimensional (3-D) topological insulator (TI), could be a candidate to create qubits for quantum computing due to its special properties.
More Quantum Computing News and Quantum Computing Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.