Can open-source software speed up quantum research?

20 Jun 2023

A quantum particle. Image: Patric Holmvall

Scientists in Sweden have developed an open-source tool that aims to make breakthroughs easier in ‘unconventional’ superconductors.

Quantum tech has great potential to advance society across all manner of areas from healthcare to defence and energy. According to a report published in January by the European Commission, Europe’s quantum tech scene is thriving. The €1bn Quantum Flagship programme includes a number of different projects, each aiming to make Europe a leader in quantum tech.

In an Irish context, recent partnerships between Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin and industry players like IBM and Microsoft are actively working on raising awareness of quantum’s potential and building an ecosystem to support new research.

But the sector is very much evolving and it needs more investment, backing and innovation. Researchers believe it can benefit from more minds as there is a lot of headway to be made before we reach the stage where a quantum computer can actually solve real problems in practice.

Swedish open-source software

As part of an effort to bring quantum tech to a wider audience, a group of scientists from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have been developing freely available software.

Their open-source system called SuperConga focuses on a particular area within quantum tech, that of the superconducting properties of quantum particles. The superconducting properties of quantum particles have already paved the way for new technologies used in applications such as magnetic resonance imaging equipment, maglev trains and quantum computer components.

The scientists at Chalmers are hoping that SuperConga will bring their research into superconducting properties to a larger audience. The software has been specifically designed to perform advanced simulations and analyses of quantum components.

The team hopes that SuperConga will open up new avenues to solving the mysteries associated with superconductor materials and advance quantum research.

Unconventional, enigmatic superconductors

“We are specifically interested in unconventional superconductors, which are an enigma in terms of how they even work and what their properties are,” said Prof Mikael Fogelström, a theoretical physicist at Chalmers.

“We know that they have some desirable properties that allow quantum information to be protected from interference and fluctuations,” he added of these unconventional superconductors. “Interference is what currently limits us from having a quantum computer that can be used in practice. And this is where basic research into quantum materials is crucial if we are to make any progress.”

“We want to find out about all the other exciting properties of unconventional superconductors,” said Dr Patric Holmvall, a postdoctoral researcher in condensed matter physics at Uppsala University. He described the new software as “powerful, educational and user friendly”.

New levels of understanding

“We hope that it will help generate new understanding and suggest entirely new applications for these unexplored superconductors,” Holmvall said of the software.

A key differentiator of SuperConga is that it operates at the mesoscopic level, which means that it can carry out simulations that are capable of picking up the properties of quantum particles to apply them in practice.

The mesoscopic level lies at the interface between the microscopic scale – ie. the atomic level at which the quantum particles can be explored – and the macroscopic scale which measures ordinary objects that are subject to the laws of classical physics.

“Extremely simplified models based on either the microscopic or macroscopic scale are often used at present,” Prof Tomas Löfwander, applied quantum physicist at Chalmers, pointed out. “This means that they do not manage to identify all the important physics or that they cannot be used in practice. With this free software, we want to make it easier for others to accelerate and improve their quantum research without having to reinvent the wheel every time.”

The scientists’ research paper based on the new platform was published in the journal Applied Physics Reviews.

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Blathnaid O’Dea is Careers reporter at Silicon Republic