(SpectrumIEEE) Controversial Microsoft-backed research on elusive theoretical particles that could have proved a major advance in quantum computing has now been retracted after other scientists pointed out critical flaws in the work.
The venerable IEEE Spectrum discusses the retraction and makes this observation:
“An independent review requested by the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands suggests the researchers selected data that supported the phenomenon they were looking for while omitting conflicting data. However, this review found no evidence these errors were intentional. It further suggested the scientists were caught up in their enthusiasm and so did not pay enough attention to data that did not suit their purposes.”
Although this research was retracted, some experts remain cautiously optimistic that the larger quest for topological qubits continues. “From the theoretical standpoint, there is no doubt that Majorana zero modes should exist in quantum wires and that, under appropriate conditions, they should give rise to quantized electrical conductance,” says theoretical physicist Marcel Franz at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, who co-wrote a commentary on the 2018 study. “The fact that no consensus has yet emerged on the experimental side, despite significant worldwide effort, is a testament to the enormous challenge that these experiments present to the physics community. I am optimistic however that in time, theory will be fully validated by experiments because, unlike in many other situations, we do understand the underlying mechanisms extremely well.”
Microsoft says it continues to pursue topological quantum computing, and that its research does not rely on any of the claims or methods in the retracted work. “We are confident that scaled quantum computing will help address some of humanity’s greatest challenges and we remain committed to the topological approach,” says Zulfi Alam, head of the Microsoft Quantum team.
IEEE Spectrum also includes those disagreeing: Physicist Sergey Frolov at the University of Pittsburgh, whose investigation helped trigger the Nature retraction disagrees. He argues there is extensive theoretical work suggesting quantized conductance “to not be necessary for Majorana.” He says these claims were “from the start implausible.”
NOTE: The IEEE article is summarized here by IQT-NEWS but is worth the time to read.