Bristol uni makes quantum chip breakthrough

Silicon-based quantum chips could soon be available for mass-production using the strange properties of the quantum world to ensure absolute security in mobile communications.

Scientists at the University of Bristol announced the development of a quantum chip, which, unlike previous photonic quantum circuitry based on glass materials, could be incorporated into modern production processes used for silicon processor technology.  

This could mean opening the doors to quantum computing sooner than expected, allowing unhackable communications.

Quantum computing involves processing of information at incredibly small scale, with basic units of information known as qubits, taking the place of regular ‘bits’.  Like regular computing bits, qubits can represent a ‘0’ or a ‘1’.  At the scale where quantum physics takes effect however, particles exhibit strange behaviour such as the ability to exist in two states simultaneously.  

Previous attempts to make quantum circuits have been made in other labs, though these have used glass materials which are not practical for mass production or use in small devices such as mobile phones.

“We have been able to do this in silicon, with the same sort of technology that you make microelectronic components with,” Mark Thompson, one of the researchers at the university’s School of Phyics, said, speaking with TechEye.

“It really means we are getting to the point where we can start to think about not just the mass manufacture of devices, but getting to the scale where they might fit into mobile phones,” Thompson said.

The production method is a significant improvement on previous attempts, Thomspon told TechEye.

“The problem with glass is that you can’t really do a lot with it,” he said. “When you try and make circuits out of glass they end up very big.”

With silicon, circuits can be made a thousand times smaller, at a size of just a few microns.
The researchers are currently talking with Nokia about the possibilities of quantum communications being incorporated into the company’s future handsets.

“That would allow us to have very, very secure communications,” he said.  “In the three to five year timescale we would be expecting to get these communications technologies, maybe into things like phones”.

In five to ten years this could mean using the same technology for more sophisticate devices that can do computations that are beyond the capabilities of classical computers, he said.

While full on quantum computers are still some way off – IBM has estimated around two decades – specific tasks would be possible, and at massively faster speeds than conventional computers.

“It’s like if you have a graphics processing unit, and that does specific tasks related to rendering graphics on computers, we would expect to have some sort of dedicated quantum processor that may be dedicate to simulating molecular structures for instance, or search algorithms or stuff like that,” Thompson said.