Key quantum computing components squeezed onto a single chip

Researchers are a little bit closer to a practical quantum computer after a University of Bristol team discovered how to produce and control photons — a key component of quantum computing — on the same chip as other essential parts. They published their work in Nature Photonics today.

Before now, researchers had developed parts that produce and detect photons — also known as the particles that make up light — but they were always located on their own chips. In order to make a computer cost and energy efficient, it’s important that all the components be packed onto one chip.

“We were surprised by how well the integrated sources performed together,” lead author Joshua Silverstone said in a release. “They produced high-quality identical photons in a reproducible way, confirming that we could one day manufacture a silicon chip with hundreds of similar sources on it, all working together. This could eventually lead to an optical quantum computer capable of performing enormously complex calculations.”

The researchers said it is the most complex quantum computing system of its kind to date, and it can be made on mainstream electronics manufacturing equipment. They will now focus on packing even more parts onto the chip.

Quantum computers could someday provide faster, more efficient computing. Photons travel at the speed of light and can be entangled to provide a nearly instant transfer of data.

“Our group has been making steady progress towards a functioning quantum computer over the last five years,” group leader Mark Thompson said in the release. “We hope to have within the next couple of years, photon-based devices complex enough to rival modern computing hardware for highly-specialized tasks.”