13 September 2012

Quantum Leap

In computing, Moore's law says the number of transistors on a circuit doubles every two years.

That rate of growth, however, is likely to start slowing from as early as next year, according to some in the industry.

Hewlett-Packard, the world's largest information technology corporation, has identified the importance of quantum approaches to help maintain the growth in computer power.

The theory of quantum mechanics underpins our understanding of the physical world and is central to most modern technology from the last century. Quantum logic is the step up for this century.

Unlike current computers based on transistors, quantum computers don't encode data using bits, but instead use qubits, which can appear as if they are in more than one state simultaneously.

US-based HP Fellow and group leader for Large-Scale Integrated Photonics, Dr Ray Beausoleil, sees diamond as a front-runner to replace conventional silicon in the race for practical, large-scale quantum computers.

"It's diamond's unique combination of solid-state, optical and quantum properties that make it so attractive for quantum computing," he says.

Diamonds are a special form of carbon with unusual properties. Synthetic diamonds, which are cheaper, have been manufactured since 1953.

Beausoleil says the recent breakthrough with synthetic diamonds is the availability of batches that are more or less identical.

"That's why we are partnering with RMIT's Associate Professor Andrew Greentree. Greentree is a theorist with a firm understanding of the experimental imperatives of quantum optical and diamond research," Beausoleil says.

"We've been working with Greentree for six years and his ideas have helped form many of the core research directions of what we call the Melbourne Diamond Group, and they have been substantially emulated worldwide."

Greentree is working on this research with Professor Steve Prawer at the University of Melbourne.

The project is worth $1.7 million in cash and kind over three years into next year, with funding coming from HP and the Australian Research Council.

Greentree says quantum technologies ultimately promise lower power consumption and improved functionality over classical silicon technologies.

Although much of the quantum community has concentrated on the realisation of a full-blown quantum computer, this will take time.

"Our research is exploring the role of diamond colour centres in the generation of quantum states of light," he says.

"We are aiming to integrate these sources with existing optical platforms, forming the basis for a quantum co-processor to extend the functionality of conventional computers.

"We are designing the interface for a hybrid classical-quantum device.

"HP brings enormous experience and infrastructure, as well as a proven path to prototype and market for successful technologies," Greentree says.

Story: Kevin Slack
Photo: Carla Gottgens

This story was first published in RMIT's Making Connections magazine.

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