A few weeks ago I found myself boarding a series of planes that would take me from the Netherlands to pretty much the furthest point reachable from this starting point that still includes dry land: Sydney, Australia. I wasn’t going there entirely of my own accord. Rather I had been invited to speak at a quantum information theory workshop called Coogee. For those knowledgeable of the Sydney region, it is indeed named after a beach and yes the conference takes place less than a stone’s throw away from said beach.
The first time that I heard that there were “DiVincenzo criteria” was when Richard Hughes of Los Alamos contacted me in the fall of 2001, telling me that ARDA (predecessor of IARPA – a funding agency of the US intelligence services) had commissioned him to form a roadmap committee to forecast the future of quantum information technology . Before that, I just thought of them as a list that I showed in various talks and wrote down in a few essays. So the fact that they have become a “thing” is basically because some government bureaucrats found them a handy way to draw up metrics for the progress of their quantum computing programs.
The phone was ringing in the lab, Sophie let it ring a few times before looking up from her experiment. She was a bit annoyed until she realized what time it was, almost midnight and she had only just got the experiment running. She picked up the phone, half expecting to hear her advisor when she heard her mother’s voice:
“Sophie, we were worried about you, you didn’t pick up your phone and it has been almost four hours!”.
“Don’t worry Mom, I’ll be right there, I just have to set up a measurement run overnight, otherwise the experiment will be doing nothing over Christmas!”
“But dear, like you said, it’s Christmas, you promised you’d be here! You know how Granny has been looking forward to seeing you.”
“OK, OK I’ll just start what I have now, but I still have to refill the traps. I’ll be there in 10 minutes”, she said as she hung up the phone.
As the nitrogen traps overflowed, a haze covered the floor and she started to feel a bit dizzy…
Even if you’re in a niche research field, it seems almost impossible to keep up with all the scientific literature that has been coming out in the past couple of years. There are estimations that the global scientific output doubles every 9 years, so it’s not going to get any easier. If you want people to read about your results, you’ll have to stand out. An important part of standing out is having a good abstract.
When did we have our first quantum bit? To answer, one needs to agree on the definition. When does a two-level system become a qubit? In my view, only when coherent quantum dynamics is demonstrated. In the summer of 2002, Rabi oscillations of a superconducting flux qubit were observed in our laboratory. They were published in Science ; the primary authors were Irinel Chiorescu (postdoc, now professor at Florida State University) and Yasunobu Nakamura (on sabbatical from NEC Japan, now professor at University of Tokyo). As we all know, much has happened in the years after. Here I want to describe what happened before. How did we come to this point? I concentrate on my personal story and on superconducting circuits. In our Quantum Transport group we had the parallel research line on semiconductor quantum dots by Leo Kouwenhoven and his people that led to our first spin qubit in 2006.
In the fall of 2015 QuTech and Intel Corporation joined forces in an active collaboration working on the realisation of a quantum computer. The collaboration comprises comprises Edoardo Charbon’s control electronics, Koen Bertels’ architecture work, Leo DiCarlo’s superconducting qubits and Lieven Vandersypen’s silicon spin qubits. After having worked on the Delft side of the spin qubit part of that collaboration for almost two years, I spent three months this summer in Hillsboro, Oregon to be on the other side of the phone in our weekly Skype meetings. In this blogpost, I will share some of my experiences with you.
Perhaps you have become convinced that sharing quantum entanglement with a distant party is a useful resource. By itself, it might not allow you to communicate the weather to your grandmother, but, if pure enough, and assisted by some classical communications, it does allow you to win funny card games or, (perhaps) more importantly, to transmit quantum information via teleportation. The question is, how do we manage to share quantum entanglement with a distant party in the first place? Here, I want to discuss what are some of the challenges for establishing long-distance entanglement and a very idealized solution.
Let us consider that two distant parties, that we call (surprise) Alice and Bob, are connected via a quantum channel. A quantum channel is just a channel that allows us to transmit quantum information. The typical example of a quantum channel for connecting distant parties is a cable of optical fibre. Hence, let us assume that Alice and Bob are connected via some long optical fibre cable. Since I am a theorist, we also imagine that Alice and Bob have noise-free quantum memories available to them and, even more, they can transfer qubits from their memories to the input of the channel and store incoming qubits into the memory without any error or decoherence.
If you’re reading a blog named ‘bits of quantum’, I guess I can assume you know a little bit about quantum computing and have a rough idea of what a qubit is. And, if you’ve read some of the previous articles on this blog, you may have gotten some idea of how difficult it is to make one. Being a quantum mechanic is real tough work, man!
Probably the largest challenge in quantum computing right now is minimizing the rate at which errors accumulate as you perform a computation on your quantum chip. In classical computers (your PC, or mobile phone), this is pretty much a solved problem. The probability of an error in any given operation is usually less than 1 in 1,000,000,000,000,000. This means in the process of me writing this blog post and it popping up on your screen probably less than one error has occurred. They’re not perfect, but after 50+ years of research and refinement, computers are pretty damn good these days.
There are different kinds of scientific papers. Some are like James Joyce’s Ulysses – you really want to read them but you have never made it through. There are the English classics – they are timeless and awe-inspiring. Like Shakespeare, some papers have changed the english language and, for example, teleported the wrong ideas into the heads of numerous journalists. In my group, we have a Harry Potter paper that we read again and again and keep discovering new insights. This is Jens Koch et al.’s 2007 classic “Charge insensitive qubit design derived from the Cooper pair box”, which introduced the transmon qubit.
Research in academic is a tough, gruelling but ultimately rewarding job (otherwise we wouldn’t work so hard at it!). Usually if you ask a scientist about what it is like to work in research, you will be subjected to a coffee fuelled rant about tiresome data analysis, demanding students and endless paper preparation. Unless you catch us in an unusually good mood we won’t take the time to talk about the many things about our job that we genuinely enjoy.