US grant for Sydney quantum computing research

The US National Security Agency and Army Research Office have awarded a $1.78 million research grant to Dr Michael J Biercuk, a University of Sydney physicist researching next generation quantum computing.

The grant is focused on a research area of tremendous interest to governments, industry, and academia worldwide – the attempt to harness the principles of quantum mechanics to deliver new technological capabilities.

One quantum technology of interest to the US intelligence agencies is the Quantum Computer. This device uses quantum mechanics to store and process information in a revolutionary manner and, if realised, would unlock the ability to solve problems that have thus far been nearly impossible using conventional computers – specifically problems related to code-breaking.

Quantum computers aren’t simply theoretical, however. Recent experiments have demonstrated a fully programmable, but very small, quantum computer – but too small to be useful for any practical purpose.

Dr Biercuk said the fundamental challenge in developing a useful and scalable quantum computer was in understanding how to deal with error - a problem potentially far more severe than found in classical digital processors.

“Quantum computing and quantum information science mandate extremely precise control over the quantum mechanical systems that we exploit for information processing,” he said.

“There’s very little room for error, so it becomes vital that we develop new techniques to keep the information we’re storing and processing ‘pristine.’

“We use similar concepts every day – error suppression is what prevents a DVD drive from skipping, or preserves information in a computer’s memory.

“In quantum information, however, the performance requirements are much more stringent, and the rules of quantum mechanics are completely different.”

Biercuk is collaborating with Harvard and Dartmouth College to address these challenges through the development of world-leading control hardware systems and novel quantum control ‘software’ techniques that are designed to make quantum computers resilient against error.

Broadly known as dynamical quantum error suppression, the techniques pioneered experimentally by Dr Biercuk and his colleagues provide a means to protect quantum information against errors that may occur either during memory storage or during the execution of a logic operation. Using the strangeness of quantum mechanics, these techniques actually correct errors before they occur.

“Without further development of both new high-precision control hardware and novel error-suppressing ‘software’, large-scale, useful quantum computation is unlikely to be realised,” he said.

“We’re extremely pleased that the importance of this research has been recognised by major US funding agencies, and we’re looking forward to making serious progress in the field.”

Dr Biercuk is the primary investigator for the effort, entitled “Precision Quantum Control and Error-Suppressing Quantum Firmware for Robust Quantum Computing.”

Professors Lorenza Viola (Dartmouth) and Amir Yacoby (Harvard) join him as grant sub-awardees on the effort.