In one of the previous blog posts, David DiVincenzo reviewed his criteria. Here we will follow this theme and look how these criteria translate onto a physical system. Currently, there are a few qubit implementations that look quite promising. The most prominent examples are superconducting qubits, ion traps and spin qubits. We will focus on the latter one, since that’s the one I’m working on. All the platforms mentioned above fulfill the so called DiVincenzo criteria. These criteria, defined in 2000 by David DiVincenzo, need to be fulfilled for any physical implementation of a quantum computer:
A scalable physical system with well characterized qubits.
The ability to initialize the states of the qubits to a simple state, such as |000⟩.
Long relevant coherence times, much longer than the gate operation time.
A “universal” set of quantum gates.
A qubit-specific measurement capability.
In this article we will go through all these criteria and show why spin qubits fulfill these criteria, but before doing that, let’s first introduce spin qubits.
Spin qubits are qubits where the information is stored in the spin momentum of an electron. A spin of a single electron in a magnetic field can either be in the spin down (low energy) or in the spin up (high energy) state. Comparing to a classical bit, the spin down state will be the analogue to a zero and spin up to a one.
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.
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.
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.
Elon Musk puts the odds of us living in a “base reality” at one in a billions. His more likely alternative: we live in a simulation running on a computer. After the Matrix movie and in the age of computer games, this might not be an absurd idea to many people anymore. I will not focus on the merits of the simulation hypothesis here. However, as a quantum scientist, I am convinced that if we were living in a simulation it would have to be a quantum one. Here, I want to explain why that is and I’d like to share some of my recent experience with quantum simulations – maybe the most interesting-looking application for future quantum computers at this point. In the process of the quantum simulation we also simulated the simulation – a concept that is kind of hinted at in Musk’s phrase “base reality”. From the base reality there could be a whole ladder of simulations within simulations all the way down – except for the problem of diminishing computer power. To answer the question in the title, in our research group my colleagues Marios and Nathan recently simulated a quantum simulation before running it on a small scale quantum processor. Continue reading Who simulates a quantum simulation?
In a series of blog posts, I want to introduce the bread and butter of the DiCarlo group within QuTech: Studying quantum effects in superconducting electrical circuits. In the title, I suggest that we are building artificial atoms, but that depends on the definition of “atomness”. I hope to give the reader some insight to judge for him or herself whether our work comes short of this or goes beyond it. Also, I want to convey some of the amazement I feel working on a subject that brings together electrical engineering, superconductivity, and quantum mechanics in its purest form.
This blog post is rather long, but I have marked non-essential sections with a *.
Technological sophistication is a cornerstone of our society. Apart from a few outstanding examples, technology has always advanced towards a new echelon, which in turn enabled further advance. Whether one investigates the height of the tallest skyscrapers, or the timeline from the first transistor to today’s computers, the principle remains the same: inventions are being made with increasingly faster strides. Of course this trend should hold true for our favourite qubit! Along these lines I will delve into a technological aspect of my favourite qubit: the nitrogen-vacancy (NV) centre in diamond.
The general purpose programmable computer has been an enabling technology that has exceeded the original expectations in countless ways. From the humble beginnings of the original transistor, we now have devices that contain several billion transistors all working perfectly in unison in the smartphones we keep in our pocket. Our great hopes for the quantum computer are partially based on the belief that this could happen once again with the quantum computing paradigm.
The main challenge for realizing the quantum computer is certainly finding a suitable ‘quantum hardware’, that’s why it is still mainly a physics effort. However, it will also require a significant amount of computer programming and design. This makes our field interdisciplinary and soon computer scientists and engineers will likely play important roles in the further development of the quantum computer.
It is an honor to write the first blog post here and being conscious of that certainly influenced what I was going to write about. They say write what you know, but this is a blog so I’m going to write what I think. The blog will hopefully be a place for opinions and discussions. So I’ll begin with a question:
Do physics institutes need blogs? Certainly it is a neat additional way to communicate with other scientists, especially to share more provocative thoughts and give people a chance to discuss in the comments. But science is kind of a gated community and a blog is a nice way to open it more. For communication with the rest of society, journalists often come in whenever some piece of science has an air of general interest. But especially in a field receiving a lot of interest and a lot of funding from the public, we should try to explain what we do directly to anybody who is interested enough to end up on our website. A blog is a chance for us to share and discuss our perspective on the story of quantum computing as it is being written.
Quantum computers and the media
There are news article on quantum computing almost weekly somewhere on the internet and one can use them to follow the story of the quantum computer. But the news has a certain inertia and a need to fit complicated arguments into a single sentence or paragraph. Some of the one-liners are productive simplifications, but they can also be misleading. Exploring all the misconceptions about quantum computing requires more than one blog article. I considered going through the list found here and fact-checking it, but this blog article would not have been very serious then. I thought it better for the first blog article to be a link from the past to today and focus on a single aspect that annoys me in the way the quantum computer story is told: I will try to give a more nuanced view on the relationship between the classical and quantum computer. Maybe later there will be more blog articles on other common misconceptions about quantum computers.