Bristol team makes major step in quantum computing

31 Jan 2014

Quantum computer microchip. Image via Wikimedia Commons

A research team from the University of Bristol has potentially made a significant breakthrough in the field of quantum computing after discovering a way of putting all necessary components on a single microchip.

In an announcement, the team led by Dr Mark Thompson said that for the first time they have been able to produce and control photons on the same silicon microchip that comprises all the other necessary elements of a quantum computer chip, which has never been done before.

The findings, which have been published in peer-reviewed magazine Nature Photonics, is expected to greatly advance the field of quantum computing because this application will make the development and creation of quantum computing much cheaper than the previous method of photon production and control on a separate microchip.

Quantum computing is still very much in its infancy but the uses of these potential revolutionary computers may perhaps replace conventional information and computing devices in applications ranging from ultra-secure communications and high-precision sensing to the most powerful computers that have ever been built.

A whole new field of engineering

Speaking about the discovery, lead author of the published paper, Joshua Silverstone was initially shocked at the discovery. “We were surprised by how well the integrated sources performed together. They produced high-quality identical photons in a reproducible way, confirming that we could one day manufacture a silicon chip with hundreds of similar sources on it, all working together. This could eventually lead to an optical quantum computer capable of performing enormously complex calculations.”

The field of quantum computing is like nothing that has come before it and as a result, has required a whole new breed of engineers that have been studying solely in the field of quantum computing.

The Bristol team comprised of researchers from a range of different companies and organisations who will one day be looking to avail of the technology, including Toshiba, Stanford University, University of Glasgow and TU Delft from the Netherlands.

Thompson believes it is only a matter of years before their achievements will see quantum computing become more of a reality. “Our group has been making steady progress towards a functioning quantum computer over the last five years. We hope to have within the next couple of years photon-based devices complex enough to rival modern computing hardware for highly specialised tasks.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic