Thomas Signamarcheix, Why is the startup, C12, created in January 2020 and from the physics laboratory at the Ecole Normale Superior in Paris, seeking CEA support in Grenoble?
C12’s first short-term goal is to make quantum chips that will later be used in quantum computers. It’s a technology they developed themselves. It is based on a carbon nanotube, carbon 12, hence the company name C12. They claim to be making quantum bits (Qubits) – Qubit is the building block of a quantum – based on this carbon nanotube placed on top of a silicon chip. The chip makes it work.
The C12 team made its first demonstrations in lab conditions. Then he wanted to move to more mature and standard manufacturing technologies in the world of microelectronics. She came to see us because in France, as a research and development operator with such manufacturing capacity, we are somewhat on our own.
Do you have the capacity to produce on an industrial scale?
We have large prototyping capabilities, including 11,000 square meters large clean room2 Where are silicon wafers made? It is a giant in France and Europe! When ideas are generated in the labs, we try to reach a level of maturity that is credible for the industry. All of our manufacturing processes are the same as in the industry. We buy the same equipment. We take risks, for example from damaging some devices. We standardize silicon wafers with a lot of chips, we reach the levels of quality and productivity… Our goal is to reach this level of maturity until the industrialist decides.
Is this work done at CEA Grenoble only or is Saclay involved as well?
Semiconductors are manufactured in Grenoble. At Saclay, we have more capabilities in terms of algorithms and chip programming or in terms of basic research on other quantum technologies like superconductors, for example.
How many CEA employees are involved in this partnership with C12?
For this partnership, the collaboration aims to remove the locks, one by one. Depending on the locks, we apply more or less strength. On average, this collaboration mobilizes the equivalent of four to five researchers. This could triple tomorrow depending on which lock we’re running or not.
How many locks do you need to lift?
We know that we have about ten interrelated criteria that define quantity. You have to show entanglement, have cohesion times, etc. When the first lock is lifted, perhaps the next three will fall out at the same time or, conversely, perhaps the second lock will become more difficult, which will require a return to the first. This is quantum complexity. The problem is knowing which way to go.
When will we see the first quantum computers?
In the quantum world, the chip is a huge problem with a lot of qubits. It takes about a million to perform high-performance calculations. The next steps (algorithm, quantum computer driver) depend on the behavior of qubits, their quality, number, etc. The date range is based on C12. It is up to them to develop this hardware and software sector. They claim to have the first prototype of a quantum chip in 2024. For our part, we are developing another Qubits strategy and our timescale ambitions are 2030.
What applications will quantum computers be used for?
There are several worlds in the quantum. The most motivating thing is high performance computing. Quantum technologies will be in your cryostat, not your cell phone. We can compare this to data centers but on a smaller scale. On the other hand, the computing power that can be developed is immeasurable. This will be used in the most greedy applications in terms of bandwidth, such as research in materials, health, energy, syntheses of molecules in biology and the evolution of climate … It is a calculation that, today, it would only take a million years would take a week with quantum. These are quantum promises, and they still need clarification!
Interview by TR