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RF design staple finds use in quantum computing

Posted: 19 Jun 2014  Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:qubits  quantum computing 

Governments and private groups are getting involved in a number of research initiatives to leverage recent advancements in micro and nano scale fabrication, which are seen to accelerate the development of quantum computing. The U.S. National Security Agency is reportedly running an $80 million research program geared towards developing a quantum computer capable of breaking traditional encryption schemes.

The interest in quantum computing is clear. For starters, factoring problems that would require time spans longer than the entire history of the universe to complete using conventional computing could be solved in minutes by a fully functional quantum computer. Furthermore, quantum computers could do much more than crack encryption codes. For instance, they could be used to study, in remarkable detail, the interactions between atoms and molecules that more accurately resemble real-world behaviour. This, in turn, could enable researchers to design new drugs and new materials, such as superconductors that work at room temperature.

Today's computers perform calculations serially using bits that can be either 1 or 0. In contrast, quantum computers can make many simultaneous calculations by using quantum bits, or qubits, which can exist as both 1 and 0 at the same time. With qubits, quantum computers can operate in a truly parallel fashion, so much so that essentially all computational pathways are pursued at once, which exponentially eclipses serial processing bottlenecks. One machine cycle, one "tick of the quantum computer clock," computes not just on one machine state, but all possible instruction states at once.

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But it hasn't been easy to build such systems. Qubits are notoriously tricky to manipulate, since any disturbance causes them to fall out of their quantum state (or "decohere"). Decoherence is the Achilles heel of quantum computing. A key challenge is finding ways to stave off decoherence so a quantum computer can perform with enough accuracy to allow for error correction.

Using approaches such as superconductor circuits, quantum dots, nanowire, graphene, diamond, and many others, researchers are able to implement limited capacity quantum computers. To perform experiments on these systems, researchers require the ability to define and repeatedly send very low-noise, low-jitter signals into the quantum computer and then evaluate the results.


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