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Shoot an Atom Into Silicon, and You May Have the Beginnings of a Quantum Computer


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Researchers Jose Pacheco and Meenakshi Singh, who holds an sample qubit structure embedded in silicon.

Sandia National Laboratories researchers used an ion beam generator to insert an antimony atom into an industry-standard silicon substrate.

Credit: Randy Montoya/Sandia National Laboratories

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories announced they have had promising results by shooting a single antimony atom into a silicon substrate with an ion beam generator as a possible first step toward the creation of a practical quantum computer.

The five-electron antimony atom has one more electron than the silicon atom, which means a single antimony electron remains free. The researchers applied pressure to that electron via an electromagnetic field and observed its spin. They believe they can shoot a second donor atom at just the right distance to establish communication between the two atoms, which would form the beginning of a quantum computing circuit.

"Our method is promising because, since it reads the electron's spin rather than its electrical charge, its information is not swallowed by background static and instead remains coherent for a relatively long time,' says Sandia postdoctoral fellow Meenakshi Singh.

The use of silicon is another benefit, as commercial manufacturing technologies for silicon already are well established, and the substance is less expensive than specialized superconducting materials.

The experiment represents the first time the various processes have been coordinated on a single chip and with each quantum bit precisely positioned.

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