Speeding-Up Quantum Computing Using Giant Atomic Ions – 100 Million Times Larger Than Normal Atoms

Giant Atomic Ions Concept

Quantum computers are faster and more powerful than conventional computers as they function according to the rules of quantum mechanics. They could be used in complex calculations for new medications and artificial intelligence.

Trapped Rydberg ions can be the next step towards scaling up quantum computers to sizes where they can be practically usable, a new study in Nature shows.

Different physical systems can be used to make a quantum computer. Trapped ions that form a crystal have led the research field for years, but when the system is scaled up to large ion crystals this method gets very slow. Complex arithmetic operations cannot be performed fast enough before the stored quantum information decays.

A Stockholm University research group may have solved this problem by using giant Rydberg ions, 100 million times larger than normal atoms or ions. These huge ions are highly interactive and, therefore, can exchange quantum information in less than a microsecond.

Ion Trap With Strontium Ions

Photo: The ion trap with strontium ions in the center (the blue spot). Credit: Markus Hennrich.

“In a sense, Rydberg ions form small antennas for exchanging quantum information and thus make it possible to realize particularly fast quantum gates, which are the ‘basic building blocks’ of a quantum computer”, explains Markus Hennrich, Department of Physics, Stockholm University, and group leader from the Stockholm University team. “The interaction between Rydberg ions is not based on crystal vibrations, as with ions trapped in crystal form, but on the exchange of photons. The fast interaction between the Rydberg ions can be used to create quantum entanglement.”

Trapped Ions Azote

• trapped ions (Azote): Duality of trapped ion and Rydberg atom quantum technologies. Trapped Rydberg ions combine the key strengths of two very different quantum processors, trapped ion (above) and Rydberg atom (below), in one technology. This technology has the potential to speed up trapped ion quantum computers. Credit: Illustration by Elsa Wikander/Azote.

“We used this interaction to carry out a quantum computing operation (an entangling gate) that is around 100 times faster than is typical in trapped ion systems”, explains Chi Zhang, a researcher at the Department of Physics, Stockholm University.

Theoretical calculations supporting the experiment have been conducted by Igor Lesanovsky and Weibin Li at the University of Nottingham, UK, and the University of Tübingen, Germany.

“Our theoretical work confirmed that there is indeed no slowdown expected once the ion crystals become larger, highlighting the prospect of a scalable quantum computer”, says Igor Lesanovsky from the University of Tübingen.

Quantum computers are regarded as one of the key technologies of the 21st century. While conventional computers function according to the laws of classical physics, quantum computers work according to the rules of quantum mechanics. The ability of entangled quanta to exchange information without time delay makes them very fast and powerful. In the future, quantum computers could be used wherever complex calculations need to be solved, for example in the design of new medications or in artificial intelligence.

Reference: “Submicrosecond entangling gate between trapped ions via Rydberg interaction” by Chi Zhang, Fabian Pokorny, Weibin Li, Gerard Higgins, Andreas Pöschl, Igor Lesanovsky and Markus Hennrich, 15 April 2020, Nature.
DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-2152-9

Markus Hennrich is an Associate Professor at the Department of Physics, Stockholm University.

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