A team of researchers at the University of Sydney and Microsoft just made a “microcircuit” using an entirely new phase of matter (yes you read that right), based on a theory that was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics.
This is incredible.
“Topological insulators” is what the researchers have used, for the first time, anywhere in the world, in a practical application. They work like insulators, as well as having surfaces that act as conductors. They can be used to make the circuitry needed for the interaction between quantum and classical systems – crucial for making a quantum computer work.
So basically, what the team have made, using these topological insulators, is a mini microwave circulator.
Microwave circulators act like a traffic roundabout – making sure electrical signals only go in one direction. It’s not unlike what can be found in mobile phone base stations and radar systems. We’re going to let a lot of them when making quantum computers. The problem though, is that they are pretty big – about the size of your hand.
This microcurcuit though? It’s 1000 times smaller than a normal microwave circulator. A thousand.
They’ve pulled off this world-first by using topological insulators to slow the speed of light in the material. By making them super tiny, a whole bunch of circulators can be put on a chip and manufactured in the large quantities that will be needed to build quantum computers.
The leader of the Sydney research team, Professor David Reilly, explained that the work to scale-up quantum computing is driving breakthroughs in related areas of electronics and nanoscience.
“It is not just about qubits, the fundamental building blocks for quantum machines. Building a large-scale quantum computer will also need a revolution in classical computing and device engineering,” Professor Reilly said.
“Even if we had millions of qubits today, it is not clear that we have the classical technology to control them. Realising a scaled-up quantum computer will require the invention of new devices and techniques at the quantum-classical interface.”
Lead author of the research paper, and PhD candidate Alice Mahoney said the compact circulators could be implemented “in a variety of quantum hardware platforms, irrespective of the particular quantum system used.”
We are still a few years away from having a practical quantum computer, but when we get one up and running, Scientists are looking forward to solving currently unsolvable computations in chemistry, drug design, climate and economic modelling, and cryptography.
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