Unconventional superconductor may be used to create quantum computers of the future

February 19, 2018, Chalmers University of Technology
After an intensive period of analyses the research team led by Professor Floriana Lombardi, Chalmers University of Technology, was able to establish that they had probably succeeded in creating a topological superconductor. Credit: Johan Bodell/Chalmers University of Technology

With their insensitivity to decoherence, Majorana particles could become stable building blocks of quantum computers. The problem is that they only occur under very special circumstances. Now, researchers at Chalmers University of Technology have succeeded in manufacturing a component that is able to host the sought-after particles.

Researchers throughout the world are struggling to build quantum computers. One of the great challenges is to overcome the sensitivity of quantum systems to decoherence, the collapse of superpositions. One track within quantum computer research is therefore to make use of Majorana particles, which are also called Majorana fermions. Microsoft, among other organizations, is exploring this type of quantum computer.

Majorana fermions are highly original particles, quite unlike those that make up the materials around us. In highly simplified terms, they can be seen as half-electron. In a quantum computer, the idea is to encode information in a pair of Majorana fermions separated in the material, which should, in principle, make the calculations immune to decoherence.

So where do you find Majorana fermions? In solid state materials, they only appear to occur in what are known as topological . But a research team at Chalmers University of Technology is now among the first in the world to report that they have actually manufactured a topological superconductor.

"Our experimental results are consistent with ," says Floriana Lombardi, professor at the Quantum Device Physics Laboratory at Chalmers.

To create their unconventional superconductor, they started with what is called a made of bismuth telluride, Bi2Te3. A topological conducts current in a very special way on the surface. The researchers placed a layer of aluminum, a conventional superconductor, on top, which conducts current entirely without resistance at low temperatures.

"The superconducting pair of electrons then leak into the topological insulator, which also becomes superconducting," explains Thilo Bauch, associate professor in quantum device physics.

However, the initial measurements all indicated that they only had standard superconductivity induced in the Bi2Te3 topological insulator. But when they cooled the component down again later, to routinely repeat some measurements, the situation suddenly changed—the characteristics of the superconducting pairs of electrons varied in different directions.

"And that isn't compatible at all with conventional superconductivity. Unexpected and exciting things occurred," says Lombardi.

Unlike other research teams, Lombardi's team used platinum to assemble the topological insulator with the aluminum. Repeated cooling cycles gave rise to stresses in the material, which caused the superconductivity to change its properties. After an intensive period of analyses, the researchers established that they had probably succeeded in creating a topological superconductor.

"For practical applications, the material is mainly of interest to those attempting to build a topological computer. We want to explore the new physics hidden in —this is a new chapter in physics," Lombardi says.

The results were recently published in Nature Communications in a study titled "Induced unconventional superconductivity on the surface states of Bi2Te3 topological insulator."

Explore further: Spin-polarized surface states in superconductors

More information: Sophie Charpentier et al, Induced unconventional superconductivity on the surface states of Bi2Te3 topological insulator, Nature Communications (2017). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-02069-z

Related Stories

Spin-polarized surface states in superconductors

October 26, 2017

When it comes to entirely new, faster, more powerful computers, Majorana fermions may be the answer. These hypothetical particles can do a better job than conventional quantum bits (qubits) of light or matter. Why? Because ...

On the hunt for new and peculiar superconductors

October 31, 2017

Annica Black-Schaffer wants to understand unconventional superconductors. The fact that she recently received the prestigious ERC Starting Grant and is a former recipient of grants from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation ...

Recommended for you

CMS gets first result using largest-ever LHC data sample

February 15, 2019

Just under three months after the final proton–proton collisions from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC)'s second run (Run 2), the CMS collaboration has submitted its first paper based on the full LHC dataset collected in ...

Gravitational waves will settle cosmic conundrum

February 14, 2019

Measurements of gravitational waves from approximately 50 binary neutron stars over the next decade will definitively resolve an intense debate about how quickly our universe is expanding, according to findings from an international ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (1) Feb 19, 2018
But there aren't quantum computers of the present yet...
5 / 5 (1) Feb 19, 2018
Do woo masters like mackita know how many people have them on their ignore lists or are they as ignorant of the fact that they are shouting into a vacuum as they are about everything else?
not rated yet Feb 20, 2018
Cryptography that is complicated never works, since its too hard for users/clients/businesses to understand without a phd in physics inorder to read about it. Making crypto easy is a facet of every resaercher, its not about confusion with needless terms.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.