(News.Harvard.edu) team of physicists from the Harvard-MIT Center for Ultracold Atoms and other universities has developed a special type of quantum computer known as a programmable quantum simulator capable of operating with 256 quantum bits, or “qubits.”
The system marks a major step toward building large-scale quantum machines that could be used to shed light on a host of complex quantum processes and eventually help bring about real-world breakthroughs in material science, communication technologies, finance, and many other fields, overcoming research hurdles that are beyond the capabilities of even the fastest supercomputers today.
It is the combination of system’s unprecedented size and programmability that puts it at the cutting edge of the race for a quantum computer, which harnesses the mysterious properties of matter at extremely small scales to greatly advance processing power. Under the right circumstances, the increase in qubits means the system can store and process exponentially more information than the classical bits on which standard computers run.
“The number of quantum states that are possible with only 256 qubits exceeds the number of atoms in the solar system,” Sepehr Ebadi, a physics student in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the study’s lead author said, explaining the system’s vast size.
Already, the simulator has allowed researchers to observe several exotic quantum states of matter that had never before been realized experimentally, and to perform a quantum phase transition study so precise that it serves as the textbook example of how magnetism works at the quantum level.
This new system allows the atoms to be assembled in two-dimensional arrays of optical tweezers. This increases the achievable system size from 51 to 256 qubits. Using the tweezers, researchers can arrange the atoms in defect-free patterns and create programmable shapes like square, honeycomb, or triangular lattices to engineer different interactions between the qubits.
“The workhorse of this new platform is a device called the spatial light modulator, which is used to shape an optical wavefront to produce hundreds of individually focused optical tweezer beams,” said Ebadi. “These devices are essentially the same as what is used inside a computer projector to display images on a screen, but we have adapted them to be a critical component of our quantum simulator.”