New analogue quantum device could solve previously unsolvable problems

31 Jan 2023

UCD C-QuEST director Dr Andrew Mitchell. Image: Vincent Hoban/UCD

The researchers believe this new device can be scaled up to solve specific problems that are too complex for digital computers to solve, such as simulating room-temperature superconductors.

Physicists have created a new type of analogue computer with quantum components, to try to solve some of the most complex problems in physics.

Developed by researchers in University College Dublin (UCD) and Stanford University in the US, this new quantum device involves hybrid metal-semiconductor components incorporated into a nanoelectronic circuit.

The researchers believe this analogue design offers a way to scale up the technology from individual units to large networks capable of simulating bulk quantum matter.

When scaled up, the team believes these quantum simulators could solve physics problems that are beyond the capabilities of classic digital computers.

The US university team built and operated the device, while Dr Andrew Mitchell of UCD conducted the theory and modelling.

Mitchell is the director of the UCD Centre for Quantum Engineering, Science and Technology (C-QuEST), which launched in 2021 to try solve the unsolvable.

Mitchell said certain physics problems are “simply too complex” for digital computers to solve, such as the accurate simulation of high-temperature superconductors.

The pursuit to find superconducting materials that can operate at room temperature has been described as the “holy grail” in physics research.

“That kind of computation is far beyond current capabilities because of the exponential computing time and memory requirements needed to simulate the properties of realistic models,” Mitchell said.

“However, the technological and engineering advances driving the digital revolution have brought with them the unprecedented ability to control matter at the nanoscale.”

While the new scalable device isn’t an “all-purpose” quantum computer, Mitchell said the research shows that it’s possible to build “bespoke analogue devices with quantum components” that can solve specific problems in quantum physics.

Prof Goldhaber-Gordon of Stanford University said certain mathematical models are not “solvable in a reasonable amount of time” to be proven correct.

But the possibility of these quantum simulators could mean “we have these knobs to turn that no one’s ever had before”.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic