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An innovative new sort of analog quantum computer has been developed by physicists, and it can handle challenging physics issues that have thus far eluded even the most advanced digital supercomputers. Scientists from Stanford University in the United States and University College Dublin (UCD) in Ireland have shown in a new study published in Nature Physics that a novel type of highly specialized analog computer, whose circuits feature quantum components, can solve problems from the frontiers of quantum physics that were previously unsolvable. Scaling up these types of devices has the potential to shed light on some of the most pressing open questions in physics.

For instance, scientists and engineers have wanted to learn more about superconductivity for quite some time, as the current generation of superconducting materials (used in MRI machines, high-speed trains, and long-distance energy-efficient power networks) can only function at very low temperatures, limiting their applicability. Finding materials that are superconducting at room temperature would revolutionize their use in a variety of technologies, making this discovery the “holy grail” of materials science.

Author and theoretical physicist at the University of California, Davis (UCD) School of Physics Dr. Andrew Mitchell is also the Director of the UCD Centre for Quantum Engineering, Science, and Technology (C-QuEST). What he actually stated was “Even the most advanced digital classical computers can’t handle the complexity of some problems. An extremely relevant example is the accurate simulation of complex quantum materials like high-temperature superconductors; such computation is currently well beyond the limits of available technology due to the exponentially increasing computing time and memory requirements necessary to simulate the properties of realistic models.”

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“However, the unparalleled power to govern matter at the nanoscale has been brought about by the technological and engineering advancements fueling the digital revolution. By exploiting the intrinsic quantum mechanical features of its nanoscale components, we have been able to create customized analog computers we term “Quantum Simulators” that solve certain problems in quantum physics. While we have not yet constructed a programmed quantum computer powerful enough to resolve all of physics’ outstanding issues, we may now construct specialized analog systems equipped with quantum components to address particular issues in quantum physics.”

Researchers from Stanford, UCD, and the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory developed the architecture for these new quantum devices, which incorporates hybrid metal-semiconductor components into a nanoelectronic circuit (located at Stanford). The gadget was constructed and maintained by Professor David Goldhaber-Experimental Gordon’s Nanoscience Group at Stanford, while Dr. Mitchell’s group at UCD was responsible for the theory and modeling.

Visiting Professor Goldhaber-Gordon from the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences said, “We’re always making mathematical models that we hope will capture the essence of phenomena we’re interested in, but even if we believe they’re correct, they’re often not solvable in a reasonable amount of time.” Professor Goldhaber-Gordon remarked that “we have these knobs to turn that no one has ever had before” with a Quantum Simulator.

In lieu of writing computer code for a programmable digital computer, the fundamental concept behind these analog devices, according to Goldhaber-Gordon, is to provide a hardware approximation to the problem being solved. For instance, suppose you desired to predict the movements of planets in the night sky and the timing of eclipses. You may accomplish this by making a mechanical model of the solar system, in which the motion of the moon and planets is represented by interlocking gears that rotate when a crank is turned. In reality, such a mechanism was discovered in a shipwreck off the shore of a Greek island that dates back more than two thousand years. This gadget can be considered a primitive analog computer.

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Even in the late 20th century, analog machines were utilized for mathematical calculations that were too difficult for the most capable digital computers of the time. Quantum components are required for devices to solve quantum physics difficulties. The novel architecture of the Quantum Simulator includes electronic circuits with nanoscale components whose properties are regulated by the laws of quantum mechanics. Importantly, a large number of these components may be manufactured, all of which behave identically.

This is essential for analog simulation of quantum materials, in which each electrical component in the circuit represents a simulated atom and behaves as if it were an “artificial atom.” Similarly, to how various atoms of the same type in a substance behave equally, the different electronic components of the analog computer must also behave alike.

Therefore, the new architecture offers an exclusive method for scaling up the technology from individual units to huge networks capable of replicating quantum matter in bulk. In addition, the researchers demonstrated that new quantum microscopic interactions can be generated in such systems. This research represents a step toward the creation of a new generation of scalable solid-state analog quantum computers.

The researchers first looked at a straightforward circuit made up of two connected quantum components to show the potential of analog quantum computation utilizing their novel Quantum Simulator platform.

The apparatus reproduces a model of two atoms connected by an odd quantum interaction. The researchers were able to create a novel state of matter known as “Z3 parafermions” in which electrons appear to have only a third of their normal electrical charge. These elusive states, which have not yet been produced in a lab using an electrical device, have been proposed as the foundation for upcoming topological quantum computation.

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We want to model much more complex systems that existing computers are unable to handle by scaling up the Quantum Simulator from two to numerous nano-sized components, according to Dr. Mitchell. This might be the first step toward solving some of our quantum universe’s most difficult problems.

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