This week Microsoft announced significant progress in its journey to build and operate a viable quantum computer. The tech giant said it was able to create the right conditions in which it can preserve its version of the quantum bit, which it calls a topological qubit.
Like all organizations claiming the supremacy of quantum computing, Microsoft has argued that its qubit is a stepping stone to a quantum computer that should be more stable than hardware built with other known types of qubits, and therefore unparalleled. Microsoft has also said that hacking its qubit topology is the next step toward creating a million-qubit quantum computer, a move many agree is the minimum specification needed to solve large-scale problems not possible on classic computers today.
Microsoft says its researchers have found evidence of a strange phenomenon that is central to its plans to build general-purpose quantum computers.
This phenomenon, known as “Majorana’s Mode Zero,” is expected to pave the way for topological quantum computing, the technology approach favored by Microsoft’s Azure Quantum software.
Microsoft’s Jennifer Langston announced in a blog post:
Microsoft’s Azure Quantum program has developed devices capable of creating quantum properties that scientists have imagined for nearly a century but haven’t been able to unambiguously reproduce in the real world — until now. It’s a major scientific achievement that demonstrates the elusive building blocks of a topological quantum bit, or qubit, that Microsoft has long taken as the most promising path to developing a scalable quantum computer that will unlock a new generation of unimaginable computing capabilities for Azure customers. .
Quantum computing is a rather strange concept in itself: Unlike the static world of classical one-or-zero computing, quantum computing manipulates quantum bits, or qubits, which can represent ones and zeros simultaneously until the results are read.
Scientists claim that a quantitative approach can solve certain types of problems – for example, optimizing a network or simulating molecular interactions – much faster than a classical approach. Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, and other cloud-based services are already using hybrid platforms to bring some of the benefits of a quantitative approach to applications ranging from pharmaceutical development to traffic management.
At the same time, Microsoft and other companies are trying to build hardware and software for full-stack quantum computing systems that can support a much wider range of applications. Microsoft has chosen a particularly peculiar technological strategy, which consists of inducing quantum states on topological superconducting wires. To maintain these stable quantum states, the wires will host local Majorana zero modes at each end.
Jennifer Langston states that:
Building on two decades of scientific research and recent investments in simulation and fabrication, the Azure Quantum team has designed devices that allow them to create a topological phase of matter bounded by a pair of Majorana’s Zero modes. These quantum excitations are not normally found in nature and must appear under incredibly precise conditions.
Scientists have sought to create and monitor this excitement since it was first theorized in 1937. More recently, they have realized that Majorana’s zero modes can play an important role in protecting quantum information and enabling reliable computation.
The Azure Quantum team was also able to produce a so-called topological phase and topological gap measurement, which determine phase stability.
Majorana zero mode
Majorana zero patterns have been the subject of theoretical interest since 1937, but for decades they remained exclusively in the field of theory. In 2018, a team of researchers reported that they had invented the phenomenon, but retracted it three years later. Other claims have also sparked controversy, casting doubt on the possibilities of topological quantum computing.
Last year, an analysis of data from experimental Azure Quantum hardware found signatures indicating that Majorana’s zero modes were located at both ends of a finely tuned nanowire. Other signatures in the electrical conductance data indicated the opening and closing of the so-called topological gap—another telltale sign of a successful discovery.
“It was all of a sudden amazing,” said Roman Lachin, Microsoft Partner Research Director who specializes in quantum simulations, in a Microsoft report on Majorana’s research.
Zalfi Alam, the company’s vice president who leads quantum computing efforts at Microsoft, said the hardware team invited an external panel of experts to review and verify the findings.
Even if the results are validated, it will still take a lot of research to generate topological qubits and assemble a prime-time quantum computer. But at least Microsoft researchers will have more confidence that they’re on the right track.
The amazing thing is that humans have been able to design a system to show one of the most exotic parts of physics in the universe, said Microsoft engineer Krysta Svore, who leads Software Development: Business quantum. And we plan to take advantage of that to do the nearly unimaginable — push toward an error-tolerant quantum machine that will enable computation on a whole new level, closer to the way nature works.
How did Microsoft do it?
In a post and video, Dr. Chetan Nayak, a prominent quantum engineer at Microsoft, recounts how his team demonstrated the fundamental physics required to create a new type of qubit. Topological quantum computing opens a path to fault tolerance at the hardware level. The precision, speed, and size of a topological qubit are controlled by a characteristic energy, the topological gap, notes the researcher. This path is only open if one can reliably produce a topological phase of the material and experimentally verify that the qubit subcomponents are in a topological phase and ready to process quantum information. He points out that this is not trivial.
Jennifer Langston warns that:
The ability to create and maintain a quantum phase using Majorana’s zero modes and a scalable topological map removes the biggest hurdle to producing a single type of qubit, which Microsoft’s quantum machine will use to store and compute information, called a topological qubit. This is the basis of Microsoft’s approach to building a quantum computer that must be more stable than machines built with other known types of qubits, and therefore unparalleled.
Across the world, scientists are racing to better understand the complex chemical or molecular processes that could help remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, create better batteries or sustainable energy sources, produce more food on an acre of land or help Remove pollutants to create a clean environment. water.
But even with today’s vast computing potential, some of these problems extend beyond the confines of traditional computers, which could take years, decades, or the age of the universe to solve. In contrast, quantum computers seek to use quantum mechanics – the same laws and mathematical equations that describe the behavior of subatomic particles – to process information in entirely new ways and at a previously inaccessible scale.
Understanding how to feed or cure the world from climate change will require discoveries or optimization of molecules that simply cannot be done by conventional computers today, and this is where the quantum machine comes in. Zulfi Alam, who said he puts a lot of thought into his work on how to leave the world a better place for his four-year-old.
I don’t know if we’ve done that in the last two or three generations. So I hope we can give back now and do something to help heal the planet, and I think we need the computing power of quantum computing to do that.
According to Microsoft, the Azure Quantum team decided early on that solving these real and pressing problems would require quantum computers employing a million qubits or more: so far, public demonstrations of gate-based quantum computing have used less than 130. And Microsoft experts expect many of the current qubits to have Limitations that make it difficult to achieve the scale required to support commercial quantum applications.
That’s why Azure Quantum has focused on developing topological qubits, which should be faster, smaller, and less prone to information loss than other types of qubits in development. Microsoft believes that creating a more stable topological qubit is the clearest and fastest way to build an industrial-scale quantum machine.
But, until now, the downside to pursuing topological qubits was that no one was sure that basic quantum physics could be harnessed to produce them.
We hope to solve some of humanity’s biggest challenges, says CTO of Microsoft France
Bernard Organlian, CTO and Security for Microsoft France, posted this statement on Linkedin:
Quantum computing promises to help us solve some of the biggest challenges facing humanity. However, we are still in the early stages of realizing its full potential. Today’s quantum computers allow researchers to conduct interesting research. However, these researchers often find themselves limited by the inadequate scope of these systems and are eager to do more. Today’s quantum computers implement a very diverse range of qubits, but none have yet collected enough qubits to fully realize the promise of quantum computing.
Nearly 25 years ago Microsoft took a more challenging, but ultimately more promising, approach to scalable quantum computing using topological qubits that are presumably more stable in nature than the qubits produced by current methods without sacrificing size or speed. We discovered that we could produce the topological superconducting phase with its attendant zero majorana modes, thus removing a major obstacle to building a large-scale quantum machine.
Topological qubits are controlled by a fundamental property called the “topological gap”. Find out how Microsoft Quantum researchers observed a topological gap of 30 microelectronvolts, demonstrating that the physics behind their approach to quantum computing is sound.
Sources: Microsoft Announcement, Dr. Chetan Nayak, Bernard Organlian
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