Home SCIENCE The Unanticipated breakthrough in Quantum Computing

The Unanticipated breakthrough in Quantum Computing

Sometimes, scientific breakthroughs happen due to a focused effort on a clear goal. Sometimes, they occur due to one little accident, just like the discovery of penicillin. Then sometimes they happen because they all fall perfectly into place in a series of improbable accidents. This latest research is among those series of unlikely events that will change how we approach building quantum computers.

Story of Nicolaas Bloembergen

This story began in 1961 when the Dutch-American physicist Nicolaas Bloembergen proposed that the nucleus of an atom could be stimulated using an electric field, called nuclear electric resonance.

quantum computer atom

Absence of Modern technological instruments

Yet studies that tried to explain nuclear electric resonance proved to be too tricky, and while almost 60 years have passed since Bloembergen predicted its presence, it still hasn’t got off the chalkboard.
It was largely overlooked until a few scholars presented a paper in 2020 at the University of New South Wales in Sydney and “rediscovered” this.

Nuclear Magnetic resonance

The researchers were analyzing with another field pioneered by Boembergen, “nuclear magnetic resonance.” Nuclear magnetic resonance may be a well-established phenomenon, and it is the principle that magnetic resonance imaging or MRI machines use to work today. It’s also one possible approach to innovate quantum computers.

Magic of Quantum physics

By taking advantage of the bizarre nature of the quantum realm, quantum computers can use one atom to require the placement of a silicon transistor, functioning as either a one or zero sorts of a classical binary bit, or both at the same time, or any combination in-between them. This ability to represent multiple values directly makes quantum bits, or qubits, far more fitted to solving complex problems.

But quantum computers are much harder to form as small as their classical counterparts.


periodic table

Silicon transistors are often packed into devices by the billions. Despite this, a quantum computer built by Google in 2019 had to remain close to absolute zero to its 54 qubits made of superconductive metal. So that they were kept in a special refrigerator about the dimensions of a telephone booth, one dream for future quantum computers may be a best-of-both-worlds scenario, where single atoms embedded in silicon are often manipulated with magnetic fields, producing more compact chips with many qubits on them.

Testing on Antimony atom

Researchers had imagined a qubit made of silicon and phosphorus as far back as 1998, which can be used to vary the spin of the phosphorus nucleus by a magnetic flux. Yet, by their definition, magnetic fields do not suit nicely in this dream scenario.

classical computer

It’s hard to confine them to a little space, so while they can influence the spin of 1 nucleus, they will likely affect the spins of neighboring nuclei. One researcher out of the latest paper likes nuclear magnetic resonance by shaking the entire table to move a ball.
And this is where their latest research comes in. The scientists decided to experiment with how nuclear magnetic resonance affects one atom of antimony elements. They inserted the atom in a chip and a microscopic antenna, but the antimony did not react as they had planned once they flipped on the power and passed a current through the silicon. Its turn responded emphatically to specific frequencies and not at all to others. It took a couple of months of head-scratching before they understood what had happened there.

quantum computing basic atom

Antenna failed to provide enough current

The antenna in their system was unable to withstand the intense current flowing through it, and it snapped and changed its function like a fuse. No longer was emitting a strong oscillating magnetic field. Instead, it had become an electrode that was giving off a strong oscillating electric field. However, the field still wouldn’t have done anything if it weren’t for another lucky break, so to talk.
The nucleus of the atom appeared to be placed in an irregular static electric field because the aluminum contraction had bent the silicon leads to its surface as the chip was cooled to near absolute null. Despite the uneven field, there would have been no impact by the electric field. Be that as it may, even with this series of fortuitous events, the analysis wouldn’t have added up to much had the researchers utilized an alternate element.
They decided to use phosphorus, just like the 1998 proposal. The tiny nucleus wouldn’t have responded. But the larger nucleus of the antimony (Atomic number 51) atom did. All this adds up to what might be an enormous breakthrough for quantum computing. Because electric fields fade sharply over distance, electrodes are often used to affect single qubits precisely, meaning more are usually packed into a smaller space on familiar silicon.

atom web

So to recap, a team of researchers in Australia decided that, only for fun, they would test how a magnetic flux affected an atom. Thanks to any unintended breakage, any sudden shrinkage, and their choice of an atom.
They made a seminal discovery that would make quantum bits smaller, easier to shape, and durable. Oh, and that they solved a problem that hasn’t been cracked since it had been proposed in 1961.
I suppose if anything can be figured out about all of this, it’s events that
happen — and sometimes their outcomes are better than what we would have wished for.

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