Australian scientists make quantum computing breakthrough

UNSW researchers inspect their quantum computing device. Image courtesy of UNSW.
UNSW researchers inspect their quantum computing device. Image courtesy of UNSW.

A team of Australian scientists have made a breakthrough which could pave the way for viable quantum computing.

Researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) managed to create a more ‘stable’ quantum bit (qubit) which could be remain in position 10 times longer than previous technology allowed.

This increase in qubit stability is incredibly important to quantum computing and overcomes one of the major barriers to these computers going mainstream.

Fundamentally, quantum computers make use of a quantum property called ‘superposition’ which allows each qubit to contain more information than the binary 1 or 0 of standard computing bits.

Computers which are derived from such qubits would theoretically be much faster than standard computers for a number of different tasks.

These include mapping complex systems, breaking digital encryption and making sense of large databases.

“Quantum computing is one of the great challenges of the 21st century, manipulating nature at a subatomic level and pushing into the very edge of what is possible,” said Mark Hoffman, UNSW’s Dean of Engineering.

In the past however, the superposition of qubits was often too unstable to be read in any meaningful way, meaning the computers could not function.

The fact that the UNSW team has managed to create longer lasting qubit superposition means that this hurdle may now be solved, and practical quantum computers may be just around the corner.

“We have created a new quantum bit where the spin of a single electron is merged together with a strong electromagnetic field,” said Arne Laucht, a Research Fellow at the School of Electrical Engineering & Telecommunications at UNSW.

“This quantum bit is more versatile and more long-lived than the electron alone, and will allow us to build more reliable quantum computers.”

Following up on this discovery, a $70m deal was made between UNSW, the researchers, business and the Australian government to develop a prototype silicon quantum chip.

Nonetheless, they will face stiff competition from major competitors such as Google, Intel and controversial upstart D-Wave Systems, in order to create the first true quantum computer and win what is being dubbed as the ‘space race of the 21st century’.