News Highlights: A fridge that’s colder than outer space could take quantum computing to new heights.
For most of us, the refrigerator is where we keep our dairy products, meat and vegetables. For Ilana Wisby, CEO of Oxford Quantum Circuits (OQC), cooling means something completely different.
Her company, which operates the UK’s only commercially available quantum computer, recently announced a new partnership with Oxford Instruments Nanoscience, a manufacturer of ultra-low temperature refrigerators.
Under the agreement, OQC will be the first to deploy the new Proteox cryo-refrigerator, which will reach temperatures of 5-8 millikelvin (approximately -273 ° C / -460 ° F), significantly colder than space.
According to Wisby, the advent of powerful new refrigerators will enable organizations like her to take quantum computers to new heights by improving the “quality” of superconducting quantum bits (qubits).
“Quantum effects only occur in very energy-efficient environments, and energy is temperature. Ultimately, we have to be at incredibly low temperatures, because we work with single digit electron levels, ”she explains
“A qubit is an electronic circuit made of aluminum, built with a piece of silicon, which we cool until it becomes superconducting and then continue until single electron effects occur.”
The colder the system, the less “noise and clutter” there is, she told TechRadar Pro, as all other “crap” has been frozen. With the Proteox, OQC hopes to be able to scale up the architecture of its quantum machine in a significant way.
The Proteox cryo refrigerator from Oxford Instruments Nanoscience. (Image credit: Oxford Instruments Nanoscience) A Quantum Future
The meaning of quantum computing, let alone its meaning, can be difficult to grasp without a background in physics. At the end of our conversation, Wisby herself stated that she found it difficult to balance scientific integrity with the need to communicate the concepts.
In short, quantum computers take a very different approach to problem solving than classical machines, using certain symmetries to speed up processing and allow for much greater scale.
“Quantum computers use a number of principles that determine how the world works at the atomic level. For example, superposition is a principle where something can be in two positions at the same time, such as a coin that is both a head and a tail, ”said Wisby.
“That can ultimately also happen with information. We are therefore no longer limited to just ones and zeros, but can have multiple versions of numbers in between, superimposed on each other. “
Rather than running calculation after calculation in a linear fashion, quantum machines can run them in parallel, optimize for many more variables – and do it extremely quickly.
Progress in the field, which is really in its infancy, is expected to have a major impact in areas such as drug discovery, logistics, finance, cybersecurity, and almost every other market that has to process massive amounts of information.
However, quantum computers in use today cannot consistently outperform classic supercomputers. There are also very few quantum computer resources that businesses can use; OQC only has a small pool of rivals worldwide in this regard.
The best-known milestone held in the air as a marker of progress is that of quantum domination, the point at which quantum computers can solve problems that would take classical machines an unachievable amount of time.
In October 2019, Google announced that it was the first company to reach this milestone, completing a task with its Sycamore prototype in 200 seconds that would take another machine 10,000 years.
But the claim was very publicly disputed by IBM, who called its Summit supercomputer (formerly the fastest in the world) to prove that it was able to handle the same workload in about two and a half days.
While the quantum domination milestone is still disputed and quantum computers have not yet been responsible for any major scientific discoveries, Wisby is optimistic about the industry’s near-term outlook.
“We are not there yet, but we will be there very soon. We are at a tipping point where we should begin to see discoveries and applications that were previously fundamentally impossible, realistically over the next three years. “
“In pharmacy that could mean understanding specific molecules, and even better water. We hope to see customers in the not-too-distant future working on new drugs enabled by a quantum computer, at least in part. “
The challenge for organizations that want to take quantum computing to the next level is balancing quality, scale and control. As quantum systems are scaled and an appropriate level of control asserted, quality declines and information is lost.
“Achieving all of these things in parallel unlocks a quantum-enabled future,” Wisby says.
In other words, there is work to be done before quantum fulfills its potential. But advances in the ability to manufacture superconducting devices on a large scale and developments in areas such as refrigeration are leading the way.
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