Summer is approaching fast! The days until vacation are getting fewer and fewer. But before you can relax at a beach with a cold drink you need to send a bunch of emails. However for some reason the software allowing your computer to connect to the Internet has suddenly vanished. What can you do? Well, maybe you can just manually do whatever this software does. It can’t be too hard right? Or can it…?
The network stack, a collection of of software used by computers to connect to each other and run applications over a network, such as e-mail, social media, file sharing, video streaming etc., used by today’s Internet is crucial to its operation. You use it everyday, but do you know what it actually does? When you send an email to your colleague, how is your email actually transmitted across to a different computer?
So it is winter and it is cold. Cold? It is freezing! But the air is nice and dry outside, so you decide to take a wintery walk in the forest. If you’re in a part of the world where you can currently fry an egg on the street, just wander along in your head – this is a small gedanken experiment. The walk is nice, yet cold and by the time you arrive home, the only thing you want, is to take a nice and warm shower. You turn on the tap and you feel the water running, splashing on your arms and shoulders, slowly defrosting your fingers. But then, for goodness sake, your roommate turns on her (cold) tap and your water temperature rises instantly. In a reflex, you jump out of the water jet, your skin already showing red stains. Luckily it was just an instant and soon you can go back into the shower. But then, of course, your other roommate needs some hot water and with a scream you, again, jump out of the now ice-cold shower. Time for a cup of tea…
At the heart of Quantum Mechanics lies quantum superposition. This strange phenomenon is often described as the capacity of a quantum system to be in multiple incompatible states at the same time. The most famous example of this is Schrödinger’s cat, which would be both dead and alive at the same time. But how can this be? How can we humanly make sense of that apparent contradiction? Well… I think we cannot! More precisely, I think there is a problem of language in here. Exactly what a quantum scientist means by being “in superposition”, I think, is quite far from what the layman has in mind.
A simple analogy
To start explaining what a quantum scientist has in mind when he/she says that a state is in superposition I will use a simple analogy: Shapes.
What? How is that related to the topic?
You’ll see! How would you describe or draw a shape that is both a disk and a rectangle?
That does not make any sense! Maybe something like this:
Yeah you see, it does not make sense to you, and you struggle to draw anything because I said something that does not make sense. This is exactly what happens when someone says that Schrödinger’s cat is both dead and alive! It is not clear what he/she means, and stated like that it is non-sense. When a quantum scientist says that a physical system is in superposition of two states (dead and alive), he/she means that it is in a state that is neither the first (dead) nor the second (alive) but it is in another state that possesses some of the characteristics of both (dead and alive).
Hmm…This is quite hard to visualize for me. Don’t you have an example?
Yes! For the example of the shape it could look like this:
Oh I see!
This is a relatively good analogy. This shape is neither a rectangle nor a disk, however it has some of the properties of both. Moreover I like this analogy because in quantum mechanics you cannot “see” the quantum state the physical system is in. In other words, if someone gives you a system in a certain unknown state, you cannot learn the state. If you try to measure it, you will only see a “projection” of it… Continue reading Dead or Alive: Can you be both?
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?