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Thursday, 13 January 2022 11:35

Melbourne-led research team finds new way to build quantum devices Featured

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Melvin Jakob and the nanostencil scanner Melvin Jakob and the nanostencil scanner

A University of Melbourne-led team of researchers may have found a way to construct quantum computers cheaply and reliably.

The new technique – developed by Professor David Jamieson and co-authors from the University of New South Wales, Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf, Leibniz Institute of Surface Engineering, and RMIT – embeds single atoms in silicon wafers, one-by-one, mirroring methods used to build conventional devices.

"We believe we ultimately could make large-scale machines based on single atom quantum bits by using our method and taking advantage of the manufacturing techniques that the semiconductor industry has perfected," said Jamieson.

The technique uses an atomic force microscope with a positioning accuracy of just half a nanometre, a similar distance to that between the atoms in a silicon crystal.

Phosphorus atoms are dropped onto the silicon, but the problem was knowing when exactly one atom had embedded in the required position so the process could move on to the next position.

ITWIRE UNIVERSITY OF MELBOURNE ILLUSTRATION OF SINGLE ATOM TECHNIQUE QUANTUM CHIP

The breakthrough was discovering that the tiny electronic 'click' made when the atom embeds into the crystal could be detected and amplified.

"One atom colliding with a piece of silicon makes a very faint click, but we have invented very sensitive electronics used to detect the click, it's much amplified and gives a loud signal, a loud and reliable signal," said Jamieson.

"That allows us to be very confident of our method. We can say, 'Oh, there was a click. An atom just arrived. Now we can move the cantilever to the next spot and wait for the next atom,'" Professor Jamieson said.

Co-author, University of New South Wales Scientia Professor Andrea Morello said qubit chips could be created by embedding phosphorus ions into a silicon substrate.

"This will allow us to engineer the quantum logic operations between large arrays of individual atoms, retaining highly accurate operations across the whole processor," Professor Morello said.

"Instead of implanting many atoms in random locations and selecting the ones that work best, they will now be placed in an orderly array, similar to the transistors in conventional semiconductors computer chips."

The University of Melbourne's Dr Alexander (Melvin) Jakob said "We used advanced technology developed for sensitive x-ray detectors and a special atomic force microscope originally developed for the Rosetta space mission along with a comprehensive computer model for the trajectory of ions implanted into silicon, developed in collaboration with our colleagues in Germany."

"With our Centre partners, we have already produced ground-breaking results on single atom qubits made with this technique, but the new discovery will accelerate our work on large-scale devices," he added.

The project was funded by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology, the US Army Research Office, a grant from the University of Melbourne Research and Infrastructure Fund and used the facilities of the Australian National Fabrication Facility at the Melbourne Centre for Nanofabrication.


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Stephen Withers

Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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