The silicon quantum computer - changing the face of technology

Quantum computers will lead to the development of many new and revolutionary technologies. This is due to their ability to solve problems that traditional computers cannot, making possible:

  • the identification and development of new medicines, which would be sped up greatly by the computer-aided design of pharmaceutical compounds
  • greatly reduced timescales for the introduction of new medicines, by minimising lengthy trial and error testing
  • the accelerated development of new, lighter and stronger materials for a wide range of products, with applications spanning consumer electronics to aircraft, through advanced molecular quantum computer aided design.

Quantum computers that are currently being developed use chips made from superconductors or exotic semiconductor materials. However most of today’s chip manufacturing industries are centred on fabricating silicon devices.

An obvious solution is to make a quantum computer based on a silicon chip. This would allow the existing computer industry to manufacture them using current silicon chip foundries and thus expedite the delivery of this technology to the public.

How does the Australian National Fabrication Facility help?

The Australian National Fabrication Facility (ANFF) — supported by the Australian Government’s National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) — is looking at this important research area.

The New South Wales Node of ANFF supports around 45 researchers from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation & Communication Technology (CQC2T).    A major stream of their research is dedicated to the development of a silicon quantum computer.

The New South Wales node provides facilities and staff who specialise in high-resolution lithography — a critical capability required for the development of the key building block of a quantum computer, a quantum bit (or qubit). Specifically it houses clean rooms containing three electron beam lithography tools and associated processing facilities for silicon and other semiconductor materials that are used by CQC2T staff daily.

ANFF staff train all of the students, postdoctoral researchers and other academics in the processes they will need to fabricate the chips in the NSW Node clean rooms. They also help to develop and optimise these processes to best suit the projects they are working on. For example, engineering staff have optimised processes for high-resolution patterning, and reached a near world record for electron beam lithography resolution fabricating a six nanometre wide metal wire on a silicon wafer.

Results

After developing much of the fundamental science over the previous decade, in 2012 the group fabricated the first operating single-atom quantum bit in silicon (Si qubit), the fundamental building block of a silicon quantum computer.

This breakthrough and the research milestones that were met in developing the Si qubit were recognised by a publication in the prestigious scientific journal Nature, and have collectively turned the idea of a silicon quantum computer into a reality.

Associate Professor Andrea Morello, who jointly led the teams that discovered the silicon quantum bit at UNSW, has won numerous awards for his ground-breaking research.

In 2011 Andrea was awarded the Eureka Prize for Scientific Research. In 2013, he was named Physical Scientist of the Year at the annual Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, and also won the David Syme Research Prize. In 2014, following the publication of two more significant advances towards a functioning qubit in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, he won the NSW Science and Engineering Award for Emerging Research.

The collective effort of ANFF-NSW and CQC2T has led to Australia becoming world leaders in quantum computation. With the local knowledge economy they have built, and constant flow of PhD graduates trained in the science and engineering of these devices, they have laid the foundations for Australia to establish a quantum computer industry here in Australia.

Did you know?

  • The ANFF was established in 2007 under NCRIS to provide micro and nano fabrication capabilities to Australian researchers. Specialising in fabricating materials and devices with sub-micrometer features, the NSW Node is one of eight that make up the national network of facilities, located throughout 21 institutions across Australia.
  • The ANFF facility portfolio consists of over 500 instruments, and has a project value of almost $275 million.
  • Approximately 90 technical staff provide ANFF services to almost 2200 researchers, who used more than 128,000 hours of fabrication facility time in 2013/14.
  • Researchers are able to either gain direct access to facilities under expert guidance, contract for specialised products to be made, or undertake contract research projects.

The Australian Government is proud to provide funding for ANFF’s important work through NCRIS.

You can find out more about ANFF and about other NCRIS initiatives on their websites.