Australian engineers have designed a new type of quantum computer

Flip-flop qubit in action. Image: Tony Melov

Australian engineers have invented a new architecture for quantum computing, which uses the power of atoms for processing, to make large-scale manufacturing of quantum chips cheaper and easier than thought possible.

They base their next generation computing on what they call flip-flop qubits. The design, announced in the journal Nature Communications, allows for a silicon quantum processor that can be scaled up without the precise placement of atoms required in other approaches.

It also allows quantum bits, or qubits — the basic unit of information in a quantum computer — to be placed hundreds of nanometres apart and still remain coupled. They are called flip-flop qubits.

The design was conceived by a team led by Andrea Morello, program manager at the University of NSW-based ARC Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology (CQC2T).

Lead author Guilherme Tosi developed the pioneering concept along with Morello and co-authors Fahd Mohiyaddin, Vivien Schmitt and Stefanie Tenberg of CQC2T, with collaborators Rajib Rahman and Gerhard Klimeck of Purdue University in the US.

“It’s a brilliant design, and like many such conceptual leaps, it’s amazing no-one had thought of it before,” says Morello.

“What Guilherme and the team have invented is a new way to define a spin qubit that uses both the electron and the nucleus of the atom. Crucially, this new qubit can be controlled using electric signals, instead of magnetic ones. Electric signals are significantly easier to distribute and localise within an electronic chip.”

The scientists explain:

The design sidesteps a challenge that all spin-based silicon qubits were expected to face as teams begin building larger and larger arrays of qubits — the need to space them at a distance of only 10-20 nanometres, or just 50 atoms apart.

Researchers at UNSW already lead the world in making spin qubits at this scale, says Morello.

“But if we want to make an array of thousands or millions of qubits so close together, it means that all the control lines, the control electronics and the readout devices must also be fabricated at that nanometric scale, and with that pitch and that density of electrodes,” he says. “This new concept suggests another pathway.”

Building a quantum computer has been called the space race of the 21st century, with the potential to deliver revolutionary tools for tackling otherwise impossible calculations.

“It will take great engineering to bring quantum computing to commercial reality, and the work we see from this extraordinary team puts Australia in the driver’s seat,” says Mark Hoffman, UNSW’s Dean of Engineering.

The UNSW team has a $83 million deal with Telstra, the Commonwealth Bank and the federal and New South Wales governments to develop, by 2022, a 10-qubit prototype silicon quantum integrated circuit, the first step in building the world’s first quantum computer in silicon.

In August, the partners launched Silicon Quantum Computing Pty Ltd, Australia’s first quantum computing company, to advance the development and commercialisation of the team’s unique technologies.

The NSW Government pledged $8.7 million, UNSW $25 million, the Commonwealth Bank $14 million, Telstra $10 million and the Federal Government $25 million.

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