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Uni of Melbourne team pioneers new quantum computing research

A University of Melbourne-led team has unveiled a new method to reliably and affordably develop quantum computers by embedding atoms “one-by-one” onto silicon wafers to build quantum devices.

A University of Melbourne-led team has unveiled a new method to reliably and affordably develop quantum computers by embedding atoms “one-by-one” onto silicon wafers to build quantum devices.

According to a spokesperson from the University of Melbourne, the technique of building parts “atom by atom” is said to “create large scale patterns of counted atoms that are controlled so their quantum states can be manipulated, coupled and read-out”.

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The findings were published in an Advanced Materials paper and were developed by Professor David Jamieson and his team from UNSW Sydney, Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR), Leibniz Institute of Surface Engineering (IOM) and RMIT.

According to Professor Jamieson, the team’s goal is to develop a large quantum device with this scalable method.

“We believe we ultimately could make large-scale machines based on single atom quantum bits by using our method and taking advantage of the manufacturing techniques that the semiconductor industry has perfected,” Professor Jamieson said.

To develop the chip, the researchers have to be precise to within the nanometre.

“The technique takes advantage of the precision of the atomic force microscope, which has a sharp cantilever that 'touches' the surface of a chip with a positioning accuracy of just half a nanometre, about the same as the spacing between atoms in a silicon crystal,” a spokesperson from the University of Melbourne explained.

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During the process, the team would “drop” an atom through a hole in the cantilever onto its correct position on the chip. The sound of the atom colliding with the silicone enabled the researchers to know when the atom was in place, enabling the researchers to construct items with single atoms more precision than previous trials.

“One atom colliding with a piece of silicon makes a very faint click, but we have invented very sensitive electronics used to detect the click, it's much amplified and gives a loud signal, a loud and reliable signal,” Professor Jamieson explained.

“That allows us to be very confident of our method. We can say, ‘Oh, there was a click. An atom just arrived. Now we can move the cantilever to the next spot and wait for the next atom’.” 

UNSW's Professor Andrea Morello, co-author of the paper, explained that resulting prototype was a qubit “chip”, which was later used in experiments to understand the scalability of the process.

“This will allow us to engineer the quantum logic operations between large arrays of individual atoms, retaining highly accurate operations across the whole processor,” Professor Morello said.

“Instead of implanting many atoms in random locations and selecting the ones that work best, they will now be placed in an orderly array, similar to the transistors in conventional semiconductors computer chips.

The University of Melbourne’s Dr Alexander (Melvin) Jakob, first author of the paper explained that the equipment used was designed as part of an internationally collaborative process.

“We used advanced technology developed for sensitive x-ray detectors and a special atomic force microscope originally developed for the Rosetta space mission along with a comprehensive computer model for the trajectory of ions implanted into silicon, developed in collaboration with our colleagues in Germany,” Dr Jakob said.

“With our Centre partners, we have already produced ground-breaking results on single atom qubits made with this technique, but the new discovery will accelerate our work on large-scale devices.”

It is hoped that quantum computers will be able to process new ways of breaking cryptography, optimising finance and even potentially vaccine development.

The University of Melbourne project was supported by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology, the US Army Research Office as well as a grant from the University of Melbourne Research and Infrastructure Fund. The project utilised the Australian National Fabrication Facility at the Melbourne Centre for Nanofabrication to conduct the experimentation.

[Related: Thales enters quantum technology partnership]

Uni of Melbourne team pioneers new quantum computing research
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