Scientists at the University of Sussex have invented a ground-breaking new method that puts the construction of large-scale quantum computers within reach of current technology.
Quantum computers could solve certain problems – that would take the fastest supercomputer millions of years to calculate – in just a few milliseconds.
They have the potential to create new materials and medicines, as well as solve long-standing scientific and financial problems.
Universal quantum computers can be built in principle – but the technology challenges are tremendous. The engineering required to build one is considered more difficult than manned space travel to Mars – until now.
Quantum computing on a small scale using trapped ions (charged atoms) is carried out by aligning individual laser beams onto individual ions with each ion forming a quantum bit.
However, a large-scale quantum computer would need billions of quantum bits, therefore requiring billions of precisely aligned lasers, one for each ion.
Instead, scientists at Sussex have invented a simple method where voltages are applied to a quantum computer microchip (without having to align laser beams) – to the same effect.
Professor Winfried Hensinger and his team also succeeded in demonstrating the core building block of this new method with an impressively low error rate at their quantum computing facility at Sussex.
Professor Hensinger said: “This development is a game changer for quantum computing making it accessible for industrial and government use. We will construct a large-scale quantum computer at Sussex making full use of this exciting new technology.”
Quantum computers may revolutionise society in a similar way as the emergence of classical computers. Dr Seb Weidt, part of the Ion Quantum Technology Group said: “Developing this step-changing new technology has been a great adventure and it is absolutely amazing observing it actually work in the laboratory.”
New evidence on the formation of the solar system
International research involving a Monash University scientist is using new computer models and evidence from meteorites to show that a low-mass supernova triggered the formation of our solar system.
About 4.6 billion years ago, a cloud of gas and dust that eventually formed our solar system was disturbed.
The ensuing gravitational collapse formed the proto-Sun with a surrounding disc where the planets were born. A supernova — a star exploding at the end of its life-cycle — would have enough energy to induce the collapse of such a gas cloud.
“Before this model there was only inconclusive evidence to support this theory,” said Professor Alexander Heger from the Monash School of Physics and Astronomy.
The research team, led by University of Minnesota School of Physics and Astronomy Professor Yong-Zhong Qian, decided to focus on short-lived radioactive nuclei only present in the early solar system.
Due to their short lifetimes, these nuclei could only have come from the triggering supernova. Their abundances in the early solar system have been inferred from their decay products in meteorites. As the debris from the formation of the solar system, meteorites are comparable to the leftover bricks and mortar in a construction site. They tell us what the solar system is made of and in particular, what short-lived nuclei the triggering supernova provided.
“Identifying these ‘fingerprints’ of the final supernova is what we needed to help us understand how the formation of the solar system was initiated,” Professor Heger said.
“The fingerprints uniquely point to a low-mass supernova as the trigger.
“The findings in this paper have opened up a whole new direction of research focusing on low-mass supernovae,” he said.
In addition to explaining the abundance of Beryllium-10, this low-mass supernova model would also explain the short-lived nuclei Calcium-41, Palladium-107, and a few others found in meteorites.
Professor Qian said the group would like to examine the remaining mysteries surrounding short-lived nuclei found in meteorites. The research is funded by the US Department of Energy Office of Nuclear Physics.
Professor Heger and a new Monash Future Fellow, Dr Bernhard Mueller, also study such supernovae using computational facilities at the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute.