Pitt-led researchers to build foundation for quantum supercomputers

August 3, 2010, University of Pittsburgh
This is Pitt physics and astronomy professor Jeremy Levy. Credit: University of Pittsburgh

A research team based at the University of Pittsburgh has received a five-year, $7.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to tackle some of the most significant challenges preventing the development of quantum computers, powerful devices that could solve problems too complex for all of the world's computers working together over the age of the Universe to crack. The project was one of 32 nationwide selected from 152 proposals to receive a grant from the Multi-University Research Initiative (MURI) program; a total of $227 million was distributed to institutions that include Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Jeremy Levy, a professor of physics and astronomy in Pitt's School of Arts and Sciences, will lead a team of researchers from Cornell University, Stanford University, the University of California at Santa Barbara, the University of Michigan, and the University of Wisconsin in combining the properties of semiconductors—such as those used to make computer processors, and superconductors—which allow for the perfect flow of electricity, into a single material suitable for the development of quantum computers. The team will use these superconducting semiconductors to develop new types of , perform quantum simulation, and create new methods for transferring from one medium to another.

These functions are essential to realizing quantum computers—which are yet to exist in any practical form—but require a precise control of the laws of that has so far been difficult to achieve, Levy explained.

One of the most significant challenges with any approach to quantum computation is the inevitable loss of information. Group member Chetan Nayak, a physics professor at UC-Santa Barbara, has theorized that very thin sheets of certain types of superconductors have topological quantum excitations that can be used to make quantum memories highly immune to errors. The development of materials that can support these excitations will be undertaken by Chang-Beom Eom, a professor of materials science and engineering at Wisconsin; Harold Hwang, a professor of applied physics at Stanford; and Darrell Schlom, an engineering professor at Cornell. Xiaoqing Pan, a University of Michigan professor of materials science and engineering, will perform atomic-scale characterization of these structures.

A second research goal involves using superconducting semiconductors to perform quantum simulations of physical systems. To do this, the team will use a technique Levy developed that allows for atomic-scale devices such as transistors and computer processors to be created and erased on a single platform that functions like a microscopic Etch A SketchTM, the drawing toy that inspired Levy's idea; Levy reported on the platform in the Feb. 20, 2009, edition of Science. For the MURI project, Levy will create a new near-atomic scale lattice that will be used to experiment with new materials and search for superconducting phenomena.

The project's third thrust involves the transfer of quantum information from one physical system to another. Quantum bits are efficiently stored in nanoscale defects found in diamonds. David Awschalom, a professor of physics and electrical engineering at UC-Santa Barbara, will develop ways of transferring quantum information between these diamond defects and superconducting microwave resonators.

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1 / 5 (1) Aug 12, 2010
Interesting, but doesn't address the "Big Question". Which is, should we even be trying to develop a quantum computer?
Why are we in such a hurry to turn our planet and our society over to AIs? It doesn't take much extrapolation to see where this path leads. What in the name of humanity are we doing?
not rated yet Aug 12, 2010

"If we have the capability and will to do so, we deserve to destroy ourselves."

"If we lack the capability to control what we create, we deserve to destroy ourselves."

I prefer the latter way of looking at this.
not rated yet Aug 13, 2010

It's the magnitude of the irresponsibility that bothers me. I don't care if one person plays Russian roulette, or if some clown decides he'd enjoy juggling vials of nitroglycerin in his bedroom, but if I happen to live in the same house that behavior tends to be criminal.

You speak of the human race is if it were homogeneous and equally culpable. It isn't. The young mother down the street may still have something significant to contribute to the universe even when the professor over at the university doesn't.
not rated yet Sep 13, 2010

what are you talking about?

i look forward to something intelligent taking over down here and sorting this mess out

not rated yet Sep 15, 2010
That's one way of looking at things. I call it the Bird In The Gilded Cage scenario.

A friend of mine with impaired vision used to have a cockatoo of which he was quite fond. One day he attached a fresh water bottle to the bird's cage, but the bottle wasn't secure and fell to the floor after he'd left. Days went by and the bird began to squawk, but my friend thought it only wanted extra attention and ignored it. After a week without water, the cockatoo died of thirst, and my friend finally discovered what had happened. He was mortified, but it was too late.

To make a long story short, I prefer being in charge of my own water ration. Otherwise some day folks might find me dead on the floor of my cage with my feet sticking up in the air.

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