IonQ Reports Advance on Path to Networked Quantum Computing

By John Russell

February 22, 2024

IonQ reported reaching a milestone in its efforts to use entangled photon-ion connectivity to scale its quantum computers. IonQ’s quantum computers are based on trapped ions which feature long coherence times and qubit uniformity but (like many other quantum systems) pose a challenge when scaling qubit counts.

“Today, we are announcing a major technical milestone on photonic interconnects, our core technology that we believe will enable quantum networking between and within quantum computers. We believe that this is the first demonstration of ion-photon entanglement outside of an academic environment,” according to the IonQ blog, posted today.

Broadly speaking, interconnecting individual quantum processors is seen as the mostly like way to scale up quantum computers. IBM, for example, introduced a new QPU last year (Heron, 133-qubits) that is being specifically designed to be connected to other QPUs to scale systems. The ability to interconnect photons and a variety of qubit types (e.g. diamond vacancy) is an area of intense work through the quantum community. This approach, for example, is also likely to be critical in building a quantum internet by developing repeaters that use photons-physical qubit interactions. Amazon, for example, is doing this.

Scaling up IonQ’s trapped ion system will require interconnecting QPUs and the company has long been working on how to do that effectively. In today’s blog, IonQ reported “[We] are bringing this technology to the technical readiness level needed to be deployed in commercially available quantum computers. Our path to photonic interconnects consists of four main milestones, each of which expands on the previous milestone and culminates in a large-scale, networked, multi quantum processing unit (QPU).”

“Photonic interconnects enable the entanglement of remote qubits across multiple, physical locations. Ions have unique advantages in the use of photons for networking – as the interactions between atoms and photons are a well-studied and understood area of quantum information science. As a result, IonQ’s vision has always been to scale our technology through photonic interconnects. In addition to ions’ high fidelity, high connectivity, and long coherence, ions’ compatibility with photonic networking is a core reason IonQ chose this modality of quantum computing,” reported IonQ.

Here are the milestones described by IonQ:

  • Milestone 1: Ion-Photon Entanglement. The first – and one of the most challenging milestones in entangling quantum information across a network of QPUs – is generating and manipulating single photons entangled with a qubit to form a network node. Such a node must be capable of three key capabilities. First, the node must have the ability to generate “interconnect photons” entangled with the interconnect qubit. Second, the node must be capable of sending these interconnect photons through fiber optics to a detection hub. Lastly, the detection hub must be able to manipulate and measure the state of the interconnect photon to confirm ion-photon entanglement.
  • Milestone 2: Photon-Mediated Ion-Ion Entanglement. Milestone 2 expands upon Milestone 1 by entangling two ion-based qubits from separate nodes using their entangled photons. To achieve this, we are developing systems to collect interconnect photons from two different nodes, and to route these photons to a single detection hub, where they interfere and are measured, leaving an entangled state between the qubits at each node.
  • Milestone 3: Swapping Ion-Ion Entanglement to the QPU. After establishing this remote entanglement between interconnect qubits, Milestone 3 is to demonstrate that we can transfer this entanglement from interconnect qubits to computation qubits for more complex algorithms. This entanglement can be transferred via two-qubit swap gates to establish two entangled QPUs. With this entanglement, we can expand the number of qubits available for quantum computations.
  • Milestone 4: Multi-QPU Programmatic Entanglement. The final milestone is our ultimate goal of scaling photonic interconnects beyond two nodes. With many QPUs networked together in a programmatic fashion, we can execute extremely wide circuits by harnessing all of the qubits in the network, in parallel. To achieve this, we are in the process of developing single-photon switching techniques and devices, allowing us to collect interconnect photons from many interconnect qubits across many traps, to selectively entangle qubits across the network based on the parameters of the circuit. (Figure for milestone 4 shown below.)

Here’s a summary of how ion-photon entanglement works (milestone 1) and done by IonQ:

“First, an interconnect qubit is loaded into the ion trap. Next, the interconnect qubit is excited, with a highly specialized laser system, into an excited state. The excited state of the interconnect qubit then decays into a superposition of two possible qubit states.

“As the electron decays, it releases a photon whose properties are entangled with the two quantum states of the ion qubit.

“This emission and subsequent entanglement are natural quantum behaviors and don’t require any coaxing from the interconnect technology. Next, we need to collect this valuable, entangled photon. We do this with highly specialized optical systems, which redirect the photon into a fiber optic cable. This cable is then connected to our detection hub, where we can control and manipulate the photon, as needed.

“The state of the photon is measured in this photon state detection hub. We used this hub to perform specific measurements of the photon qubit states. After measurements of the ion-qubit, we confirmed that the photon was entangled with the original interconnect ion qubit state and sent through our network, successfully demonstrating Milestone 1.”

Link to blog, https://ionq.com/posts/enabling-networked-quantum-computing-with-ion-photon-entanglement?utm_source=business-wire&utm_medium=press-release&utm_campaign=ion-photon-entanglement&utm_content=blog-post&utm_term=45323

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