Quantum computing is continuing to make its staggering progress towards reality with the discovery that a common semiconductor can produce quantum bits.
Researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, have found that silicon carbide is able to produce quantum bits, or qubits, at room temperature. This means that the commonly found material could be used as the basis for a whole generation of computers with mind-boggling speeds, using the equally mind-warping world of quantum physics. All this served at the same temperature as a good red wine.
The breakthrough is thanks to crystal imperfections found in the silicon carbide by the boffins at UCSB. In traditional semiconductor computing these defects stuff up the flow of electrons by trapping them in crystal, the researchers found that this had advantages on the quantum level.
The ‘trapping’ of electrons allows their quantum states to be initialised and manipulated, meeting the requirements to be classed as a qubit. This can be achieved at room temperature too, while most quantum bit materials are able to function only when cooled to near absolute zero, which is a little cold to stick on your desktop.
It is not the first material to function as a qubit at room temperature however. A flaw in diamond known as the nitrogen-vacancy centre can operate in this way. But using material which is difficult to grow and manufacture into integrated circuits means it has drawbacks that silicon carbide does not have.
Silicon carbide is actually already used as a semiconductor in a wide array of electronic production methods for commercial products.
The infra red light, used to manipulate the qubits in the material, is similar to that used in conventional telecommunications networks, meaning that the boffins think it should be a doddle to work on further developments.
There have been many developments with quantum computing to date and the researchers hope that their discovery will give a greater level control, with the goal of making quantum mechanics fully engineerable.
UCSB has already made some inroads into rudimentrary chip design using quantum theory. A cat, which was potentially neither dead, nor alive, had no comment to make.