Cosmic rays may soon stymie quantum computing
+ But researchers at MIT, MIT Lincoln Laboratory, and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) have found that a qubit’s performance will soon hit a wall. [T]he team reports that the low-level, otherwise harmless background radiation that is emitted by trace elements in concrete walls and incoming cosmic rays are enough to cause decoherence in qubits. They found that this effect, if left unmitigated, will limit the performance of qubits to just a few milliseconds.
“These decoherence mechanisms are like an onion, and we’ve been peeling back the layers for past 20 years, but there’s another layer that left unabated is going to limit us in a couple years, which is environmental radiation,” says William Oliver, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science and Lincoln Laboratory Fellow at MIT. “This is an exciting result, because it motivates us to think of other ways to design qubits to get around this problem.”
+ Oliver and Formaggio teamed up to see how they might nail down the effect of low-level environmental radiation on qubits. As a neutrino physicist, Formaggio has expertise in designing experiments that shield against the smallest sources of radiation, to be able to see neutrinos and other hard-to-detect particles.
+ “Cosmic ray radiation is hard to get rid of,” Formaggio says. “It’s very penetrating, and goes right through everything like a jet stream. If you go underground, that gets less and less. It’s probably not necessary to build quantum computers deep underground, like neutrino experiments, but maybe deep basement facilities could probably get qubits operating at improved levels.”
+ “If we want to build an industry, we’d likely prefer to mitigate the effects of radiation above ground,” Oliver says. “We can think about designing qubits in a way that makes them ‘rad-hard,’ and less sensitive to quasiparticles, or design traps for quasiparticles so that even if they’re constantly being generated by radiation, they can flow away from the qubit. So it’s definitely not game-over, it’s just the next layer of the onion we need to address.”
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