Chip manufacturer Intel has teamed up with QuTech, the quantum institute from TU Delft and TNO. Apart from the financial support, 5 mln. dollars for ten years, Intel brings in engineering expertise in developing quantum chips.
"We're moving from quantum physics to quantum engineering," said Dr. Leo DiCarlo, one of the lead scientists at QuTech (part of the Kavli Institute of Nanoscience at the Faculty of Applied Sciences). "To continue to move forward, we need to increase the number of quantum components on a chip and improve the interconnections between them. That's why we welcome the engineering expertise from Intel in the computer industry."
"We can now make 5-10 quantum components on a chip," explained DiCarlo, referring to the error-correcting chip that he published about in Nature last April. "We need to make that 50-100 components to make significant progress in the field." To protect the information in a (inherently unstable) quantum bit, you need redundancy: more qubits sharing the same information. According to DiCarlo's calculations, 17 qubits would be required to make a fault-tolerant unit and 49 qubits would protect the information even better. "When you're working with faulty components, more is better," DiCarlo resumes his principle of redundancy.
Of course, the engineering is not just about cramming more qubits onto a chip, but also improving their operation, the reproducibility, and the interconnection.
"Expertise in specialised electronics combined with advanced physics is required to move quantum computing closer to being a reality," said Mike Mayberry, Intel's vice president and managing director of Intel Labs. "While qubit development has been the focus of quantum computing research to date, low-temperature electronics will be required to connect, control and measure multiple qubits, and this is where we can contribute."
DiCarlo explained that qubits are controlled by non-quantum electronics. Until now, a normal computer controls the qubits at the end of long lines to the bottom of a cryostat. One of the goals of the partnership is Intel developing cryogenic control electronics that work at 4 Kelvin.
The partnership will focus on research into fault-tolerant quantum computing at QuTech. Professor Lieven Vandersypen conducts research into qubits based on the spin, a tiny magnetic effect, of electrons trapped in quantum dots. DiCarlo's research is focused on qubits based on superconducting circuits on chips. Prof. Edoardo Charbon develops low-temperature electronics to manage qubits, Prof. Koen Bertels concentrates on the architecture of the quantum computer and Dr. Ryoichi Ishihara focuses on the connection between quantum bits and control electronics. TNO engineers will focus on the architecture of the quantum computer, enhancement and upscaling of the fabrication of qubits on the nanoscale and the connection between qubits, chips, and electronics.
"There are no restrictions on the publications," said Vandersypen. "We are a university, and we need the freedom to publish our results. Intel understands that quantum computing is a topic that no one party can solve. We need the whole scientific community for that, and we wouldn't want to cut ourselves loose from that community. The only things we will not be able to publish are materials or processes that are part of Intel's technology."