Quantum Computing: Federal Researchers Take One Step Closer - InformationWeek

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Government // Enterprise Architecture

Quantum Computing: Federal Researchers Take One Step Closer

NIST researchers have achieved the lowest error rate to date in quantum information processing.

Federal researchers have achieved the lowest error rate to date in quantum information processing, a breakthrough that brings them one step closer to building a viable quantum computer.

Quantum computers are even more powerful than supercomputers and could solve problems that even the most powerful high-performance computers that exist today can't, according to the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), which conducted research that delivered the results. The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, the National Security Agency, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the Office of Naval Research also contributed to the research.

The federal government--which operates five of the world's top 10 supercomputers--uses them for a range of high-computational processing work, such as climate change research and 3-D modeling used to track severe weather. Quantum computers would give researchers the ability to perform these activities much faster and with more processing power.

Researchers achieved the low error results in an experiment with a single beryllium ion quibit. A working quantum computer also will require the same low error processing rates with two-qubit logic operations, according to NIST.

"One error per 10,000 logic operations is a commonly agreed upon target for a low enough error rate to use error correction protocols in a quantum computer," Kenton Brown, a NIST postdoctoral researcher who led the project, said in a press statement. "We've been able to show that we have good enough control over our single-qubit operations that our probability of error is 1 per 50,000 logic operations."

Researchers performed the experiment on 1,000 unique sequences of logic operations randomly selected by computer software. Sequences of 10 different lengths, ranging from one to 987 operations, were repeated 100 times each, then results were compared to perfect theoretical outcomes. Researchers limited the maximum length of sequences by the hardware used to control the experiment.

Two major changes in the group's experimental setup allowed for the low error results, according to NIST. First, they used microwaves instead of laser beams to manipulate ions used in the experiment. This reduced errors that can occur through instability in laser-beam pointing and power, as well as spontaneous ion emissions.

The second change was to place the ion trap into a copper vacuum chamber to cool it with a helium bath to reduce errors caused by magnetic field fluctuations in the lab, according to NIST.

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