2017 has been quite the year for quantum computing progress with D-Wave continuing to build its quantum annealing approach and Google, Microsoft, IBM and Intel advancing toward the horizon that Google has dubbed quantum supremacy, when quantum machines will be able to solve select problems that are outside the purview of their classical counterparts.
Along with efforts to build general quantum computers, researchers are also developing quantum simulators, which enable the study of quantum systems that are too complex to model with conventional supercomputers. Today two independent teams of researchers published papers in the journal Nature describoing their work creating the largest quantum simulators yet at over 50 qubits. These projects mark major milestones as previously quantum simulators have been limited to a dozen or so qubits.
In one of the two studies, researchers from the University of Maryland (UMD) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) create a trapped ion device comprised of 53 individual ytterbium atoms (ions), held in place by electric fields.
“Each ion qubit is a stable atomic clock that can be perfectly replicated,” said UMD team lead Christopher Monroe, who is also the co-founder and chief scientist at the startup IonQ Inc. “They are effectively wired together with external laser beams. This means that the same device can be reprogrammed and reconfigured, from the outside, to adapt to any type of quantum simulation or future quantum computer application that comes up.”
In a separate paper, published in the same issue of Nature, a group of physicists from MIT and Harvard University reported a new way to manipulate quantum bits of matter using finely tuned lasers to generate, control and “read” a 51-atom array.
“Our method provides a way of exploring many-body phenomena on a programmable quantum simulator and could enable realizations of new quantum algorithms,” the authors write.
Potential applications for the new quantum simulator include optimization problems such as the traveling salesman problem, variations of which are used in DNA sequencing, materials science and data processing.
Joint Quantum Institute press release: http://jqi.umd.edu/news/quantum-simulators-wield-control-over-more-50-qubits
Feature image caption: Artist’s depiction of quantum simulation. Lasers manipulate an array of over 50 atomic qubits in order to study the dynamics of quantum magnetism (credit: E. Edwards/JQI).