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September 06, 2012

Silicon chip enables mass-manufacture of quantum technologies

Scientists from the University of Bristol’s Centre for Quantum Photonics have developed a silicon chip that will pave the way to the mass-manufacture of miniature quantum chips.

EETimes - The Bristol research team is in discussions with Nokia about the use of quantum computing for use within secure mobile communications. Quantum secure communications could deployed commercially within five years. Over the same sort of period the Bristol research team expects to demonstrate quantum computing chips developed to solve specific problems. Many of these may be particular to molecular, atomic and even quantum simulation or to some fundamentally hard-to-solve problems in mathematics.

The research paper is talking about 81-94% accuracy. So it seems there would be work to get scalable precision and results.

They believe that they can make the components many thousands of times smaller than their current work. This would enable miniature quantum circuits that could potentially fit inside a mobile phone, for example to enable quantum-secure communications for internet banking. A large scale quantum system that is faster than classical supercomputers could be possible within ten years based on an extrapolation and further development of this work.

The leap from using glass-based circuits to silicon-based circuits is significant because fabricating quantum circuits in silicon has the major advantage of being compatible with modern microelectronics. Ultimately this technology could be integrated with conventional microelectronic circuits, and could one day allow the development of hybrid conventional / quantum microprocessors.

The Bristol-led team have developed quantum chips from silicon — the same material routinely used en masse to build the tiny electrical processors in all computers and smart phones. However, unlike conventional silicon chips that work by controlling electrical current, these circuits manipulate single particles of light (photons) to perform calculations. These circuits exploit strange quantum mechanical effects such as superposition (the ability for a particle to be in two places at once) and entanglement (strong correlations between particles that would be nonsensical in our everyday world). The technology developed uses the same manufacturing techniques as conventional microelectronics, and could be economically scaled for mass-manufacture. These new circuits are compatible with existing optical fibre infrastructure and are ready to be deployed directly with the internet.

The researchers have demonstrated quantum interference and manipulation of entanglement using silicon components just 10's micrometres in size. The photonic quantum microchips were made using the silicon-on-insulator material system, which is the standard technology routinely used to make microprocessors found for example in the Xbox, Playstation,Wii, AMD processors and many others. This means that not only can these new devices be mass-manufactured using standard microelectronics processing that already exist, but they can also be combined with standard microelectronics circuits — ultimately enabling the development of hybrid quantum / conventional microprocessors.

Along with recent demonstrations from the Bristol research group and other groups showing on-chip generation of photonics qubits and results from the US showing on-chip detection of single photons, the Bristol-lead research team now believes that all the key components are in place to realise a fully functioning quantum processor — a powerful type of computer that uses quantum bits (qubits) rather than the conventional bits used in today’s computer


Example of a silicon quantum chip next to a 20 pence coin.

Arxiv - Quantum interference and manipulation of entanglement in silicon wire waveguide quantum circuits




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