“What makes our quantum computers so powerful is having the highest quality qubits, with the lowest error rates. This is a combination of using identical, fully connected qubits and precision control,” explained Tony Uttley, president of Honeywell Quantum Solutions.
“Imagine what you think of computers of 60 years ago looking like where they take up a full room and they have wires running everywhere,” Tony said. “We’re back there.”
First, there is an ultra-high vacuum chamber. It’s a stainless steel sphere, about the size of a basketball, with portals to allow in laser light, and from which the air has been pumped out such that it contains a vacuum of five times less particles than outer space. The chamber is cryogenically cooled with liquid helium to bring the temperature of the ion trap chip to 10 degrees above absolute zero. Within the chamber, electric fields levitate individual atoms 0.1 mm above an ion trap, a silicon chip covered in gold about the size of a quarter. Scientists shine lasers at these positively charged atoms to perform quantum operations.
Control systems are necessary to precisely manipulate the hundreds of independent electrical signals required to move the ions (qubits) in the intricate dance used for quantum information algorithms. Since the operations are all done with lasers, a multitude of optics are aligned across the optical tables, each specified for the correct color of light. All of this infrastructure takes up roughly two large optical tables (approximately 5 feet wide and 20 feet long), a significant space since the true computing power is harnessed with the few atoms hovering over the trap surface.
While traditional computing bits are in a state of either “0” or “1”, qubits can be in both states at the same time, a property called superposition.
“That means that when you have these qubits interacting with each other in a computation, you get, what I call, a quantum superpower,” Tony said. “You get an exponential expansion in the number of values that can all be considered at the same time.”