The first quantum processor is born

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

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

Specifically, 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 computer’s brain. It takes care of controlling the data exchanges between the various components. Namely between the hard disk, the RAM memory and the graphics card. In addition, he performs the calculations so that the device can 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 quantum properties. Namely, the quantum superimposition of states of a physical object and quantum entanglement. We are talking about particle physics of the infinitely small, in which the Rydberg atoms, which are 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 characterized by the alternation between single and double carbon bonds. A double bond is a bond between chemical elements involving four electrons, versus 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. It is clear that these physicists have succeeded in controlling the quantum states of electrons and atoms in silicon to a level never before achieved. In fact, quantum states are very sensitive to external interferences. A defect that can cause errors and that limits their scope and use so far.

More specifically, the researchers in the article in the journal Nature describe how they managed to mimic the structure and energy state of the organic compound polyacetylene. “If you go back to the 1950s, Richard Feynman said you can not understand how nature works unless you can build fabric on the same length scale.”, Professor Simmons remembers in the newspaper. This is how the researchers constructed material that mimics the polyacetylene molecule. And this, “by placing atoms in silicon with the exact distances representing single and double carbon-carbon bonds”. He concludes that this means that it is now possible to begin to understand more and more complex molecules, “putting the atoms in place as if they were imitating the real physical system”.

On the way to a quantum computer

This is how the team announced that they had achieved an error rate of less than 1%. Its silicon-based systems actually make it possible to imagine the production of quantum machines using existing infrastructures. “We can now make larger devices that go beyond what a typical computer can model”, pleases Professor Simmons. In other words, it is now possible to observe molecules that have not been simulated before and therefore “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 unit that helps to form the quantum state. In the processor discussed in this article, the atoms themselves create these qubits. “We only needed six metal ports to control the electrons in our 10-point system. In other words, we have fewer ports than there are active components in the device.”, says the researcher. This reduces the elements that were previously needed in the circuits. In fact, most quantum computational architectures usually need at least twice the control systems to move the electrons in the qubit architecture.

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