Quantum Milestone: Scientists Create the World’s First Programmable Logic Quantum Processor

  • Quantum Leap in Quantum Computing: Harvard scientists achieve a major milestone with a programmable quantum processor, featuring 280 physical qubits, marking progress in stable and scalable quantum computing.
  • Logical Qubit Breakthrough: The processor can encode 48 logical qubits, executing hundreds of logical gate operations – a significant improvement, showcasing the viability of large-scale algorithms on an error-corrected quantum computer.
  • Fault-Tolerant Quantum Computation: This marks the debut of early fault-tolerant quantum computation, operating reliably without interruption. A critical advancement addressing the primary challenge of error suppression in quantum computing.
  • Neutral Atom Array Architecture: Built upon years of research on a neutral atom array architecture, the breakthrough introduces a block of ultra-cold, suspended rubidium atoms as physical qubits, demonstrating efficient and scalable parallel control over logical qubits.
  • Potential for Transformative Impact: Denise Caldwell of the National Science Foundation praises the breakthrough as a “tour de force,” emphasizing the potential transformative benefits for science and society through the development of large-scale logical qubit devices.
  • Shift Towards Error-Corrected Qubits: The study aims to transition from testing algorithms with physical qubits to error-corrected qubits, highlighting the importance of creating reliable logical qubits for the advancement of quantum computing technology.
Quantum Milestone: Scientists Create the World's First Programmable Logic Quantum Processor
A team led by quantum expert Mikhail Lukin (right) has achieved a breakthrough in quantum computing. Dolev Bluvstein, a Ph.D. student in Lukin’s lab, was first author on the paper. (Image Credit: Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer)

The main hurdle in practical quantum computing is dealing with errors, which requires quantum error correction for extensive processing. However, creating error-corrected “logical” qubits, where information is redundantly encoded across multiple physical qubits, presents significant challenges for achieving large-scale logical quantum computing.

Harvard’s Quantum Processor Breakthrough

A recent study conducted by scientists at Harvard highlights a breakthrough in the development of a programmable quantum processor based on encoded logical qubits, operating with up to 280 physical qubits. This achievement is a crucial step forward in the pursuit of stable and scalable quantum computing.

The new quantum processor can encode up to 48 logical qubits and perform hundreds of logical gate operations, a significant improvement over previous efforts. This marks the first demonstration of running large-scale algorithms on an error-corrected quantum computer, indicating the emergence of early fault-tolerant quantum computation that operates reliably without interruptions.

Denise Caldwell from the National Science Foundation commented, “This breakthrough is a tour de force of quantum engineering and design. The team has not only accelerated the development of quantum information processing by using neutral atoms but opened a new door to explorations of large-scale logical qubit devices, which could enable transformative benefits for science and society as a whole.”

In quantum computing, a qubit is a unit of information. Creating physical qubits involves manipulating quantum particles such as atoms, ions, or photons. However, harnessing quantum mechanics for computation is more complex than just accumulating a sufficient number of qubits. Qubits are inherently unstable and prone to collapsing out of their quantum states.

The true measure of success in quantum computing lies in logical qubits, which are bundles of redundant, error-corrected physical qubits capable of storing information for quantum algorithms. Creating controllable logical qubits, similar to classical bits, is a significant challenge for the field. Until quantum computers can reliably operate on logical qubits, the technology cannot progress significantly.

The Harvard team’s breakthrough builds upon years of research on a quantum computing architecture known as a neutral atom array. QuEra, a company commercializing this technology, recently entered into a licensing agreement with Harvard’s Office of Technology Development for a patent portfolio based on Lukin’s group’s innovations.

At the core of the system is a block of ultra-cold, suspended rubidium atoms serving as the physical qubits. These atoms can move around, form pairs, or become “entangled” during computations. Entangled pairs of atoms come together to form gates, representing units of computing power. The team previously demonstrated low error rates in their entangling operations, establishing the reliability of their neutral atom array system.

In their logical quantum processor, the scientists have now demonstrated parallel, multiplexed control over an entire section of logical qubits using lasers. This approach is more efficient and scalable compared to individually controlling physical qubits.

Dolev Bluvstein, the first author of the paper and a Ph.D. student in Lukin’s lab, expressed, “We are trying to mark a transition in the field, toward starting to test algorithms with error-corrected qubits instead of physical ones, and enabling a path toward larger devices.”

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