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Lawrence Berkeley Lab using femtosecond laser to create/destroy qubits on demand

12 Jun 2024

Researchers say novel technique is key to future types of quantum computer.

Networked quantum computers have the potential to solve complex problems in human health, drug discovery, and artificial intelligence millions of times faster than some of the world’s fastest supercomputers. A longstanding challenge has been how to effectively link qubits together.

But now, getting qubits to connect may soon be possible. A research team led by California-based Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) says that they are the first to use a femtosecond laser to create and “annihilate” qubits on demand, and with precision, by doping silicon with hydrogen.

The team says that the advance could enable quantum computers that use programmable optical qubits or “spin-photon qubits” to connect quantum nodes across a remote network. It could also advance a quantum internet that is not only more secure but could also transmit more data than current optical-fiber information technologies.

“To make a scalable quantum architecture or network, we need qubits that can reliably form on-demand, at desired locations, so that we know where the qubit is located in a material. And that’s why our approach is critical,” said Kaushalya Jhuria, a postdoctoral scholar in Berkeley Lab’s Accelerator Technology & Applied Physics (ATAP) Division.

Jhuria is the first author on a new study that describes the technique in the journal Nature Communications. “Because once we know where a specific qubit is sitting, we can determine how to connect this qubit with other components in the system and make a quantum network,” she said.

“This could carve out a potential new pathway for industry to overcome challenges in qubit fabrication and quality control,” said principal investigator Thomas Schenkel, head of the Fusion Science & Ion Beam Technology Program in Berkeley Lab’s ATAP Division.

Qubits in silicon with programmable control

The new method uses a gas environment to form programmable defects called “color centers” in silicon. These color centers are candidates for special telecommunications qubits or “spin photon qubits.” The method also uses an ultrafast femtosecond laser to anneal silicon with pinpoint precision where those qubits should precisely form.

With help from Boubacar Kanté, a faculty scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences (EECS) at UC Berkeley, the team used a near-infrared detector to characterize the resulting color centers by probing their optical (photoluminescence) signals.

What they uncovered surprised them: a quantum emitter called the Ci center. Owing to its simple structure, stability at room temperature, and promising spin properties, the Ci center is an interesting spin photon qubit candidate that emits photons in the telecom band. “We knew from the literature that Ci can be formed in silicon, but we didn’t expect to actually make this new spin photon qubit candidate with our approach,” Jhuria said.

The researchers learned that processing silicon with a low femtosecond laser intensity in the presence of hydrogen helped to create the Ci color centers. Further experiments showed that increasing the laser intensity can increase the mobility of hydrogen, which passivates undesirable color centers without damaging the silicon lattice, said Schenkel.

“Now that we can reliably make color centers, we want to get different qubits to talk to each other – which is an embodiment of quantum entanglement – and see which ones perform the best. This is just the beginning,” said Jhuria.

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