Harvard-MIT Quantum Computing Breakthrough – “We Are Entering a Completely New Part of the Quantum World”

Advanced Quantum Computer Concept

Researchers developed a programmable quantum simulator operating with 256 qubits.

Team develops simulator with 256 qubits, largest of its kind ever created.

A 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. Qubits are the fundamental building blocks on which quantum computers run and the source of their massive processing power.

“This moves the field into a new domain where no one has ever been to thus far,” said Mikhail Lukin, the George Vasmer Leverett Professor of Physics, co-director of the Harvard Quantum Initiative, and one of the senior authors of the study published on July 7, 2021, in the journal Nature. “We are entering a completely new part of the quantum world.”

Dolev Bluvstein, Mikhail Lukin, and Sepehr Ebadi

Dolev Bluvstein (from left), Mikhail Lukin, and Sepehr Ebadi developed a special type of quantum computer known as a programmable quantum simulator. Ebadi is aligning the device that allows them to create the programmable optical tweezers. Credit: Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

According to Sepehr Ebadi, a physics student in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the study’s lead author, 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,” Ebadi 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.

Fun Atom Video

By arranging them in sequential frames and taking images of single atoms, the researchers can even make fun atom videos. Credit: Courtesy of Lukin group

These experiments provide powerful insights on the quantum physics underlying material properties and can help show scientists how to design new materials with exotic properties.

The project uses a significantly upgraded version of a platform the researchers developed in 2017, which was capable of reaching a size of 51 qubits. That older system allowed the researchers to capture ultra-cold rubidium atoms and arrange them in a specific order using a one-dimensional array of individually focused laser beams called optical tweezers.

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.

Dolev Bluvstein

Dolev Bluvstein looks at 420 mm laser that allows them to control and entangle Rydberg atoms. Credit: Harvard University

“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.”

The initial loading of the atoms into the optical tweezers is random, and the researchers must move the atoms around to arrange them into their target geometries. The researchers use a second set of moving optical tweezers to drag the atoms to their desired locations, eliminating the initial randomness. Lasers give the researchers complete control over the positioning of the atomic qubits and their coherent quantum manipulation.

Other senior authors of the study include Harvard Professors Subir Sachdev and Markus Greiner, who worked on the project along with Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Vladan Vuletić, and scientists from Stanford, the University of California Berkeley, the University of Innsbruck in Austria, the Austrian Academy of Sciences, and QuEra Computing Inc. in Boston.

“Our work is part of a really intense, high-visibility global race to build bigger and better quantum computers,” said Tout Wang, a research associate in physics at Harvard and one of the paper’s authors. “The overall effort [beyond our own] has top academic research institutions involved and major private-sector investment from Google, IBM, Amazon, and many others.”

The researchers are currently working to improve the system by improving laser control over qubits and making the system more programmable. They are also actively exploring how the system can be used for new applications, ranging from probing exotic forms of quantum matter to solving challenging real-world problems that can be naturally encoded on the qubits.

“This work enables a vast number of new scientific directions,” Ebadi said. “We are nowhere near the limits of what can be done with these systems.”

Reference: “Quantum phases of matter on a 256-atom programmable quantum simulator” by Sepehr Ebadi, Tout T. Wang, Harry Levine, Alexander Keesling, Giulia Semeghini, Ahmed Omran, Dolev Bluvstein, Rhine Samajdar, Hannes Pichler, Wen Wei Ho, Soonwon Choi, Subir Sachdev, Markus Greiner, Vladan Vuletić and Mikhail D. Lukin, 7 July 2021, Nature.
DOI: 10.1038/s41586-021-03582-4

This work was supported by the Center for Ultracold Atoms, the National Science Foundation, the Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Office of Naval Research, the Army Research Office MURI, and the DARPA ONISQ program.

46 Comments on "Harvard-MIT Quantum Computing Breakthrough – “We Are Entering a Completely New Part of the Quantum World”"

  1. Chris Crawford | July 10, 2021 at 7:19 am | Reply

    This new quantum computer uses 256 cats in 256 boxes.

  2. Thank You – 😊

  3. They say once we get to 256 qbits, the whole universe becomes a commuter.

  4. Whoa! Combined with AI,just the field of medicine will be unimaginable.

  5. Smartist kids/young adults in the world, and they still wear masks out of fear and reprisals and not actually understanding the science… sad

    • Aren’t there better places to make snarky, political cheap shots…like the twitter machine? You must be smart, Rich, if you’re reading about Qubits (& not Q-Anob). You must know some math. Try calculating how long this multi-national collaboration would take. Then add how long it would take to have this ground-breaking, never seen before project peer reviewed & published. I’d bet dollars to doughnuts it would take a lot of time. Maybe they were right in the middle of a pandemic. So keep things here to the science, and use twitter for the political bulls**t, pu-LEEZE!

  6. Rich, you poor dumb fk.😞

  7. And “Rich” (a.k.a., maskhole) just proved why those students/researchers are among the smartest in the world — they know to wear a mask not only to protect those around them but also to protect themselves until this pandemic comes to an end. Kudos to them on both their research and their mask-wearing. Signed, West Coast Maskwearer

  8. Key word I picked up on is “simulation”

    • Bravo, Chris. Just like Linus Torvalds, I think people who believe in quantum computers are nuts. And take this interpretation: “We are nowhere near the limits of what can be done with these systems” means “These systems are so limited that they’re completely useless.”

      • Like Chris, my major takeaway from this story was, “It’s a simulator.” And the prime believer nut-jobs are the researchers who spend countless hours and the investors who spend millions of dollars on the alchemy that humans will harness “quantum entanglement.”

  9. Superior Dave | July 11, 2021 at 4:02 am | Reply

    Those darn cats and all their lives are about to be realized finally. Who let the dogs out?

  10. Brilliant. Thanks

  11. The rate of discovery is far,far outpacing scientific journalism. I’m ing to bet that the majority of this article is simply copy and pasted from notes the journalist took while taking with those involved.

  12. The race for a quantum computer and super computers..
    What about like medical science instead. The race to end mental health crisis.

  13. hey dummies! DON’T forget to share all the new technology with as many Chinese students as possibly so they can take all the knowledge to China and they can screw us in the end.

  14. Masks help, wait no masks don’t help. Masks help, but only for medical professionals. Masks don’t help. Masks help. Wear two masks. Masks don’t help.


  15. With quantum we will open up the wonders of the universe that we no little of Roger

  16. I created a slogan “quantum is 60% funding 20% research 20% bullsh*t”. -kenneth Denson

  17. The end result of quantum soon as they finally open the portal, the other side been standing there waiting……

  18. But can it run Doom though?

  19. Haha l read a book about this research 5 year’s ago and it literally blew my mind.And my only real fear about this .St that these guy’s make sure they are manual and technological fail safe systems for the computers I kid you not guy’s. These things are will be like living God’s on Earth if we don’t be very very careful. HAVING said that they can be extremely helpful in so many ways for humanity especially in diseases. So l do wish them all the best.

  20. Bet people will still have lag in ESO’s Cyrodiil.

  21. Outstanding!

  22. William Marshall | July 14, 2021 at 5:32 pm | Reply

    Hahaha I agree with Rich! So many “scientists” here that think masks are a scientifically proven necessity. I guess our “science” is in good hands!

  23. Health research including
    Vaccine creation will benefit from more computing power. Mental health is a tremendous problem of large numbers of permutations which similarly can benefit from more powerful computers.

  24. This is for the q anon comment .. you had a point then you became a hypocrite .. keep your politics elsewhere you said. But like most politicians you’re a hypocrite so I guess it’s fair played.

  25. They are simulations but the new Bitcoin uses a quantum computer and people have made a lot of real money as a result of its “predictions” or simulations so it must be getting pretty close to reality.

  26. I feel like I see a whole lot of code talk in this article that basically says we can program and place the atoms in a way to get a desired outcome with time and space. It’s almost as if they’re saying these “new”quantum computers can project and tell you what the future is going to be! Anybody read all of Ingersoll Lockwood books from the turn of the century? Nah, it can’t be that simple. One of my friends told me Star Trek was a documentary… Should I believe him? There was a character on the show named Q…

  27. Rich and the other dummies.
    No mask doesn’t prevent you from virus.
    They tell you it’s helpful because they hope you wear it.
    When they say they will keep themselves and others safe(let’s say there is 3 person),it means keeping themselves (all 3 people)safe *provided not being infected already, and keeping the others amongst them safe.

    Masks protect yourself from the others.
    Let’s pretend everyone’s sick, everyone wears mask, virus has close to no chance at all to spread.
    (Close to no chance includes human faults, whatever accident like mask not worn properly, mask is poorly made and whatever else, JUST TO BE CLEAR WITH YOU FREAKS.)

  28. Do we really have to argue on a science post? Save the drama for social media please🥺

  29. Impressive

  30. Thats the new system of measurement, 256 cats/256 boxes= 1 schroedingian

  31. Quantum hackers get ready

  32. Hey boys and girls, our brains function quantumly. Quantum computers are part of our evolution.

  33. Your Worst Nightmare, Truth | July 16, 2021 at 2:22 am | Reply

    “Q” total proven trash. “Masks” also proven trash.

    Shedding of poisoning Spike Protein Prions by those who have been “vaccinated” are a proven medical fact that effect and hurt those around them, besides “THEM”. Everyone whose already had the biological binary weapon virus? That’s About 96% of those on Earth who know more that three people, socially… another proven medical fact… To call this “politics” is the moronic ravings of loons who don’t have basic medical knowledge or a free internet to sus out the obvious or have lived for months around others who don’t but into witch-hunt Covid joke garbage and rave and scream like a body snatcher psycho… Me? Just a Doctor–Government trained NBC warfare specialist who like many are “redacted” by mainstream everything in the realm of “truth”. But yeah, (wear your mask, get your poison recombinant death sentence 😀 I’ll laugh)…

  34. Your Worst Nightmare | July 16, 2021 at 2:37 am | Reply

    There is so much worse coming than all this. You little deluded things. You’ll be chewed up and spat across the pavement. Anyone in service here close to DARPA knows this as current fact. Pathetic, lame, losers. 😂 Worried about “virus”… It’s about to be horrid. Way worse. You’re about to see death incarnate next door to you. The GLOBAL Government asked for it, they’re getting it. Death. EVERYWHERE.

  35. And again the dark forces of shadow government are deeply involved. Yes there is some good that can come out of this but certainly equates to better fire power through technology which means more control over the masses.

  36. To those who submit that their primary take away from this article is that the system is a simulator. That is entirely correct.
    I would note that even in conventional processor and micro processor design the pioneers of todays conventional computers built “simulators” from discrete compnents on a macro scale.

    They used these scaled simulators to poke and prod electrons along the correct logic paths manually to understand the basics and eventually added in complex logic analysis, machine language interpreters, register manipulation, high level language compilers, and now you carry twitter and facebook around in your pocket.

    What we have in the Cold Atom Simulator is a QSpace equivalent of the early days of binary micro processors. Possibly the Quantum equivalent of Babbage’s Difference Engine. The likelyhood that a bunch of evolved primates would reach a point of development to manipulate individual atoms at a such a precise level is astounding.

    That kind of atomic manipulation will lead to more than just quantum computing breakthroughs.

    My guess is that the new photonic tweezers will the big winner in this research path. All of the big commercial players in Q-Space will run with the technology to build a 256-Qbit array.

    One last thought on thr nature of quantum computing and that this “simulator” is early stage. It is worth noting that like Shrodinger’s much maligned cat, all quantum computations are simulations. Any derived understsnding of thr computational outcome, no matter the confidence level, is still a variant model prediction. A true quantum system, in theory, could model itself and predict the next predictive branch. An sobthe simulatedbmodel in the first instance should be ablebto model itself, and on and on ad infinitum. All simulations, all with varyinf degrees of confidence. Of course that thought is completely speculative until we have a true quantum computer.

    While the ability to arrange a positiin perfect 2 dimensional array of atoms into a 256 Qubit arrsy is astoundingly impressive humans have a long way to go in order to process, control, and interpret the simulation outcomes to that extent.

    I am not a quantum physicist, by any means, but I do following along and letting my imaginatiom run wild with the possibilities. It just makes for a better story. To whit, I like to use these breakthroughs as fuel for creative writing.

    One shool of thought seems to indicate that the number of Qubits in a particular system is unimportant if you know how to accurrately manipulate a single Qubit outcome you could by relative understsnding use that single Qubit to simulate the outcome of any neighboring Qubits. With diminishing returns on confidence.

  37. I imagine the hardware they’re using is very sensitive. Masks probably serve a dual purpose here. Very interested in seeing what practical application actually comes from this many qubits .

  38. I wore my mask while reading this alone in my house. I feel safe, smart and I saved a bunch of money on my car insurance with gieco. Meow

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