Artist's rendition of the NIST superconducting quantum computing cable.  (Source: NIST, Michael Kemper)
Scientists make a “buzz” in superconducting quantum computing

Quantum computers are thought to be the future of computing as we know it. Super powerful in comparison to even the latest supercomputers, they could be used to crack heavy encryption, search giant databases in seconds, optimize complex systems and solve complex mathematical computations.

The basis of the superconducting quantum computer lies in the qubit, or quantum bit. Able, thanks to the fuzzy laws of quantum mechanics, to carry both what we think of as the 0 and 1 of binary systems concurrently, qubits could allow many more calculations  to be carried out simultaneously than the systems we're familiar with.

Qubits are old news, but scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have now successfully transferred data from one qubit to another by means of a microfabricated aluminum cable. The setup, resembling something like a cable television transmission system, consists of two qubits fabricated on a sapphire microchip connected by the seven millimeter resonant micro cable, packed into an eight cubic millimeter shielded box. The cable, about the width of a human hair, zig-zags through the enclosure between the two qubits and can be tuned to a frequency in the microwave range.

The system works by simple resonance manipulation. Qubit A is forced to a superposition of the 0 and 1 states by applying to it a microwave pulse of a certain power, frequency and duration. A voltage pulse then puts qubit A on the same frequency as the resonant cable, thus allowing the transfer of the information from the qubit to the cable in the form of microwave energy. Then qubit A is tuned away from the resonance frequency and qubit B is tuned to it. The information travels from the cable to qubit B after which qubit B is also tuned away. Finally, both qubits are measured simultaneously which forces each bit to choose a 0 or 1 state.

While the results closely resembled what the NIST scientists were expecting, imperfections in the fabrication and imprecise measurements in quantum states made it difficult to assess the transfer error rate and overall quality of the quantum bus. Further refinement of the overall system, materials, designs, and electronics should allow them to quantify error rates associated with the quantum bus and enable them to develop methods for correction.

A group at Yale has also recently used the bus to enable the interaction of two qubits to create a combined superposition state. This, along with the NIST scientists' results has demonstrated three of the basic functions required in superconductor-based quantum information processing.

Both NIST and Yale have published results in the September 27 issue of Nature.

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