This New Bending Station Can Transform Everyday Materials Into Conductors

A groundbreaking collaboration between scientists at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) has yielded a method to transform everyday materials into conductors suitable for building quantum computers. The conventional computing devices omnipresent today are constructed using silicon, a semiconductor material.

However, silicon’s limitations hinder its ability to perform complex computations on larger numbers. While the world’s fastest supercomputers are silicon-based, quantum computers, in their prototypes, exhibit the ability to perform computations in seconds that would take years for supercomputers to complete.

The UCI researchers, part of the Eddleman Quantum Institute, have been striving to discover methods to obtain high-quality quantum materials. They have now devised a simpler approach using common materials, envisioning a scenario where materials like glass, traditionally insulating, could be transformed into efficient conductors resembling copper.

Luis A. Jauregui, a professor of physics and astronomy at UCI, emphasized the uniqueness of the materials created, attributing their special electrical or quantum properties to specific atomic shapes or structures.

The researchers established a “bending station” at the UCI School of Physical Sciences, where they apply strain to materials at atomic levels, inducing a change in their behavior. By subjecting a seemingly trivial material, hafnium pentatelluride, to significant strain, the researchers successfully transformed it into a material suitable for quantum computing. Jauregui elucidated that this transformation is achieved by creating “holes” in the atomic structure, and strain is the key to this process.

Remarkably, the researchers demonstrated the ability to toggle this atomic change on and off by controlling the applied strain, presenting the potential for creating an on-off switch in future quantum computers. Jinyu Liu, a postdoctoral researcher at UCI, highlighted the practicality of this feature in quantum computing.

Access to quantum computers is currently limited to research institutions or major players in the industry like Google or IBM. These companies are actively seeking ways to make quantum computing more mainstream, and innovations such as those from UCI are pivotal in realizing this goal.

Michael Pettes, a scientist with LANL’s Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies, expressed excitement about the team’s achievement, emphasizing the potential impact on the development of quantum devices. The demonstrated methodology also holds promise for experimentation on other quantum materials, contributing to the broader advancement of quantum computing technology.

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