Australian researchers announced the development of a microwave circulator for the scale-up of quantum computing.

A team of researchers from the University of Sydney and Microsoft, in collaboration with Stanford University, reportedly miniaturized a critical component for the scaling-up of quantum computing: the microwave circulator.

According to the team, their invention represents the first practical application of a new phase of matter discovered in 2006, known as topological insulators. The theoretical work supporting the discovery of this new phase of matter eventually won the Nobel Prize in Physics last year.

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Topological insulators are components that work as a unique phase of matter. The materials are beyond the typical phases of matter we know today–solid, liquid, or gas. They operate as insulators in the bulk of their structure, but have surfaces that act as conductors.

Apparently, topological insulators can be used to make the circuitry needed for a quantum computer. Using these materials, the researchers invented the miniaturized component they called microwave circulator.

What is a Microwave Circulator?

A microwave circulator acts as a traffic roundabout which ensures that electrical signals only go in one direction, either clockwise or counterclockwise when needed. Such circuitry is also found in mobile phone base-stations and radar systems. However, an ordinary circulator is bulky, often the size of a palm.

The microwave circulator invented by the Australian scientists was said to be miniaturized by a factor of 1,000
Lead author of the study, PhD candidate Alice Mahoney, in the quantum science laboratories at the Sydney Nanoscience Hub | University of Sydney |

The microwave circulator invented by the Australian scientists was said to be miniaturized by a factor of 1,000. This makes it possible for the circulator to be integrated on a chip and be manufactured in large quantities required to build quantum computers.

The miniaturization of the microwave circulator was achieved by exploiting the properties of topological insulators which allowed the researchers to slow down the speed of light in the material.

The researchers firmly believe that their invention will lead scientists to the actual development of quantum computers capable of performing real-world functions.

“It is not just about qubits, the fundamental building blocks for quantum machines. Building a large-scale quantum computer will also need a revolution in classical computing and device engineering,” Professor David Reilly, the research team leader and Director of the USyd’s Microsoft Quantum Laboratory, explained.

“Even if we had millions of qubits today, it is not clear that we have the classical technology to control them. Realizing a scaled-up quantum computer will require the invention of new devices and techniques at the quantum-classical interface.”

Alice Mahoney, the lead author of the paper, supported Reilly’s claims and went on to say:

“Such compact circulators could be implemented in a variety of quantum hardware platforms, irrespective of the particular quantum system used.”

While we are still years away from having a functional quantum computer, researchers from around the world are exhausting all possible resources to get one up and running in the hopes of solving currently unsolvable computations in chemistry, drug design, climate, economic modeling, and cryptography.

With the development of the microwave circulator, are we finally on the edge of seeing a functional quantum computer soon? What do you think?

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