UCLA-led team develops new approach for building quantum computers
An artist’s representation shows the researchers’ quantum functional groups (brightly colored spheres) connecting with larger molecules. Credit: Stephan Sullivan

The strange behavior of particles at the smallest scales can be harnessed by quantum computing to increase processing power. Some groups have reported performing calculations that would take a long time. In the future, quantum computers may be able to provide simulations of nature beyond their current capabilities.

The UCLA-led team has developed a new strategy for building computers. The current state of the art uses circuits, semiconductors and other tools of electrical engineering, but the team has created a game plan based on chemists' ability to custom-design atomic building blocks that control the properties of largermolecular structures when they're put together

The findings could lead to a jump in quantum processing power.

Eric Hudson, UCLA's David S. Saxon Presidential Professor of physics, is the author of the study. This work is very sci-fi because we are still learning the rules of quantum technology.

Traditional computing uses bits, which are limited to one of two values. A group of quantum bits, or qubits, can have a vastly wider range of values. More than 1,000 normal bits are needed to represent 20 qubits.

That characteristic is dependent on the counterintuitive rules that apply when atoms are interacting. When two particles interact, they can become linked, or entangled, so that the properties of one can be compared to the other. Qubits are required for quantum computing.

This is vulnerable. Qubits lose their quantumness when they encounter subtle variations in their environments. Large pieces of machinery are needed to keep the qubits in a quantum state.

Engineers need to increase the processing power of quantum computing. Hudson and his colleagues think they've made a first step in the study by tailoring the molecule that protects quantum behavior.

The scientists created small molecule that contain calcium and oxygen atoms. A functional group is a group of calcium-oxygen structures that can be plugged into almost any other molecule.

The team showed that their groups remained the same even when attached to larger Molecules. Laser cooling is a key requirement for quantum computing.

Hudson said that if we could bond a quantum functional group to a surface, we could control more qubits. An atom is one of the least expensive things in the universe. It's possible to make as many as you want.

By helping scientists uncover more about the structure and function of various molecule and chemicals in the human body, the quantum functional group could be a boon for basic discovery.

The co-author of the study said that qubits can be sensitive for measurement. We would have a lot of new information about our world if we could protect them.

Hudson believes that the development of a quantum computer is not certain to succeed. Future steps include anchoring qubits to larger molecule and tethering them to a processor so that they work as a system.

The physicists and chemists were given the chance to speak in a common scientific language thanks to a Department of Energy grant. Caram says that UCLA has an easy collaboration.

He said that the project was one of the most intellectually fulfilling he had worked on. We had lunch at the Faculty Center. Out of fun conversations, this was born.

More information: Guo-Zhu Zhu et al, Functionalizing aromatic compounds with optical cycling centres, Nature Chemistry (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41557-022-00998-x Journal information: Nature Chemistry