To ol’ Musky Boy it may be BS, but to everyone else, it is the future.
Now scientists at the University of Technology Sydney have made a device made of atomically thin materials that will mean smaller circuits inside smartphones, laptops and computers in general than ever before. This latest development comes hot on the heels of University of Adelaide-led research bringing the world one step closer to reliable, high-performance quantum computing.
Maybe Elon should make another visit downunder.
Let’s break down what our National Treasures have been up to, exactly.
Electronic chips and transistors inside most of our modern-day gadgets operate based on current flow. Since the invention of integrated circuits, and in order to achieve higher and better performance, the density of transistors has been increasing.
With existing technology, we can’t really make these circuits any smaller. Using photonics (light) is one possible solution, but nanoscale building blocks (photonic crystals that act like tiny mirrors) need to be engineered to trap and steer the light at the nanoscale.
The new study from UTS shows for the first time that an atomically thin material can be used as a platform to build an integrated photonic device a thousand times smaller than a grain of sand. Now that’s pretty small. That material, by the way, is hexagonal boron nitride – or hBN.
Dr Sejeong Kim, a physicist from the UTS Institute of Biomedical Materials and Devices (IBMD) says the research is a first step towards using photonics instead of electrons – solving the “bottle neck” of modern electronics.
The unique advantage of hBN is the ability to host quantum light sources – atomic impurities that emit only one photon at a time. These sources are a fundamental building block for quantum computers and quantum communications. But to find truly practicaluses for them, the emitters have to be integrated into photonic devices.
Until now, no one has been able to show this happening with atomic materials.
IBMD PhD candidate, Johannes Fröch says that the team had to invent a lot of the processing steps, since no other group has shown these devices from hBN before.
Meanwhile, in Adelaide, an international team has developed a ground-breaking single-electron “pump” which can produce one billion electrons per second, using quantum mechanics to control them one-by-one.
The pump is so precise they can use it to measure the limitations of current electronics equipment, paving the way for future quantum information processing uses – we’re talking defence, cybersecurity and encryption, and big data analysis.
“This research puts us one step closer to the holy grail – reliable, high-performance quantum computing,” says project leader Dr Giuseppe C Tettamanzi, Senior Research Fellow, at the University of Adelaide’s Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing.
The researchers also reported observations of electron behaviour that’s never been seen before. At specific frequencies, it turns out, there is competition between different states for the capture of the same electrons.
But what does this even mean?
Quantum computing, or more broadly quantum information processing, will allow us to solve problems that just won’t be possible under classical computing systems. It operates at a scale that’s close to an atom and, at this scale, normal physics goes out the window and quantum mechanics comes into play.
To indicate its potential computational power, conventional computing works on instructions and data written in a series of 1s and 0s – think about it as a series of on and off switches. In quantum computing every possible value between 0 and 1 is available. The number of calculations that can be done simultaneously can be increased dramatically.
This University of Adelaide team, in collaboration with the University of Cambridge, Aalto University in Finland, University of New South Wales, and the University of Latvia, is working in an emerging field called electron quantum optics.
This involves controlled preparation, manipulation and measurement of single electrons. Although a considerable amount of work has been devoted world-wide to understand electronic quantum transport, there is much still to be understood and achieved.
“Achieving full control of electrons in these nano-systems will be highly beneficial for realistic implementation of a scalable quantum computer. We, of course, have been controlling electrons for the past 150 years, ever since electricity was discovered. But, at this small scale, the old physics rules can be thrown out,” says Dr Tettamanzi.
“Our final goal is to provide a flow of electrons that’s reliable, continuous and consistent – and in this research, we’ve managed to move a big step towards realistic quantum computing.”