Surrey University team announces breakthrough in quantum computing

Tiny ‘dancer’ atoms move the limitless potential of quantum computing a step closer

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Surrey University team announces breakthrough in quantum computing Scientists were successful in manipulating atoms of phosphorous within silicon crystals, controlling their shape and size, essentially making them dance.
By  David Ndichu Published  July 25, 2017

The day when quantum computing moves to practical use moves a little closer thanks to the work of an international team led by University of Surrey scientists.

The group, led by Dr Steve Chick and Professor of Physics Ben Murdin, has developed a way of making phosphorous atoms ‘dance’.

The study, published in Nature Communications, reports that the scientists were successful in manipulating atoms of phosphorous within silicon crystals, controlling their shape and size, essentially making them dance.

To date, the majority of quantum computers have been made using materials that are not mass-produced, and often using atoms suspended in vacuum.

But the Surrey team works with technology where single phosphorous atoms are trapped inside crystals of silicon, which are elements existing computer chips are made from. The team believes that positioning these atoms in a fixed grid structure could pave the way for reliable quantum computers. The strategy, called “surface code” quantum computing, involves placing many atoms in a fixed grid and using the dancing motion of the atoms to control how they interact.

The study, published in Nature Communications, reports that the scientists were successful in manipulating atoms of phosphorous within silicon crystals, controlling their shape and size, essentially making them dance.

To date, the majority of quantum computers have been made using materials that are not mass-produced, and often using atoms suspended in vacuum.

Quantum computing takes advantage of a unique ability of subatomic particles to exist in more than one state at any time.

Quantum computers are based on qubits. Classical computers encode information in bits, which take the value of 1 or 0. Unlike bits, a qubit can represent both a 1 and a 0 at the same time. That allows such machines to create mathematical models too complex for standard computers, solving complex problems that are beyond the capabilities of a classical computer.

This development highlight growing global dynamism towards creating functional quantum computers. IBM in May announcing its most complex quantum system yet (at 16 and 17 quantum qubits of quantum volume, as opposed to the previous 5 qubit processor) while Google says it is on track this year to unveil a processor with so-called “quantum supremacy”—capabilities no conventional computer can match.

Dr Steve Chick, who led the research at Surrey with Professor of Physics Ben Murdin, said: “Our experiment showed that we can control the shape and size of the phosphorous atoms and make them dance around.

“Our intention is to take advantage of this behaviour to make ‘gates’, to control when and how the quantum computer works. Our advanced control will help make our quantum computers more reliable, even if they occasionally make mistakes. Classical computers already use ways of recovering from mistakes, but in quantum computers it’s a much more difficult problem.

“We also hope that using materials which are already popular in computing will allow quantum computers and current computers to be compatible with each other.”

Researchers from Radboud University (the Netherlands), the National Physical Laboratory (UK), University College London (UK), Heriot Watt University (UK), and ETH Zurich, EPF Lausanne and Paul Scherrer Institut (Switzerland) were also involved in the research.

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