Intel researchers push quantum computing forward with new silicon chips

Intel researchers have made progress with spin qubits, which operate in silicon to deliver quantum power, and could help overcome quantum computing challenges.

The 5 basics of quantum computers
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  • Researchers associated with Intel have successfully tested spin qubits, which leverage the spin of a single electron on a silicon chip to perform quantum computing.
  • The use of spin qubits could help bring the concept of quantum computing from research to reality.

Quantum computing took one step closer to becoming a reality this week, as research groups associated with Intel successfully tested a new quantum computing architecture called spin qubits.

QuTech, one of the research groups, released a paper detailing its success in creating a two-qubit spin-based quantum computer on a silicon chip, that can be programmed to perform two simple quantum algorithms. The other group, made up of a team of physicists at Princeton, reported that they were able to pair photons to electron spins, which could lead to the advent of larger quantum computers in the future.

For those unfamiliar, quantum computing--emerging technology that seeks faster computational solutions to problems currently handled by supercomputers--remains more popular in academia than in the enterprise. But advances like these will pave the way for the creation of larger spin-based processors capable of more complex applications, Intel noted in a news post, and ultimately be used for specialized workloads. Microsoft and IBM are also working in the quantum computing space.

SEE: IT leader's guide to the future of quantum computing (Tech Pro Research)

Superconducting qubits in general are incredibly fragile, Intel noted: Any noise or unintended observation of them could lead to data loss, and they must operate at extremely cold temperatures. They are also very large, operating in systems the size of 55-gallon drums, which makes it difficult to scale up the design of the quantum system to the millions of qubits needed.

Spin qubits are similar to semiconductor electronics and transistors, and deliver quantum power by leveraging the spin of an electron on a silicon device. They offer several advantages over superconducting qubits, Intel noted: They are much smaller in physical size, and easier to scale, and can function at higher temperatures than superconducting qubits. The design of spin qubit processors is very similar to traditional silicon transistor technologies, which Intel has the equipment and infrastructure to manufacture.

Intel is also testing the manufacturing of spin-qubit test chips, and expects to be producing many each week within a couple of months.

"Going forward, Intel and QuTech will continue research on both superconducting and spin qubits across the entire quantum system - or 'stack' - from qubit devices to the hardware and software architecture required to control these devices as well as quantum applications," according to the Intel news post. "All of these elements are essential to advancing quantum computing from research to reality."

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Image: Walden Kirsch/Intel Corporation