A student’s physics homework picked up by Amazon Quantum researchers


Pablo Bonilla Ataides (left) with co-author Dr Ben Brown from the School of Physics. Photo: Louise Cooper

What started as a second year physics project is entering the Amazon Web Service (AWS) Quantum Computing program.

University of Sydney Undergraduate Science Pablo Bonilla Ataides has tweaked computer code to effectively double its ability to correct errors in quantum machines designed in the emerging technology sector.

The simple but ingenious change to the quantum error correction code caught the attention of quantum researchers at AWS Center for Quantum Computing in Pasadena, California, and the quantum technology programs at Yale University and Duke University in the United States.

“Quantum technology is in its infancy, in part because we haven’t been able to overcome the instability inherent in machines that produce so many errors,” said Mr. Bonilla, 21.

“In second year of physics, I was asked to look at a commonly used error correction code to see if we could improve it. By reversing half of the quantum switches, or qubits, in our design, we found that we could effectively double our ability to suppress errors. “

The research is published today in Nature communications.

The results of the study, co-authored by Dr Steve Flammia which recently switched from the University of Sydney to AWS’s quantum computing effort, must be part of the tech company’s arsenal of error-correcting techniques as it develops its quantum hardware.

Dr Earl Campbell is a senior quantum researcher at AWS. He said, “We have a tremendous amount of work ahead of us as an industry before anyone sees the real and practical benefits of quantum computers.

“This research surprised me. I was amazed that such a small change in a quantum error correction code could have such a big impact on expected performance.

“The AWS Center for Quantum Computing team looks forward to further collaboration as we explore other promising alternatives to bring new, more powerful computing technologies closer to reality.”

Quantum errors

Errors are extremely rare in digital transistors, or switches, that conventional computers use to power our phones, laptops, and even the fastest supercomputers.

However, quantum computer “switches”, called qubits, are particularly sensitive to interference, or “noise,” from the external environment.

To make quantum machines work, scientists must produce a large number of high-quality qubits. This can be done by upgrading the machines to be quieter and using some capacity of the machines to suppress qubit errors below a certain threshold so that they are useful.

This is where quantum error correction comes in.

Assistant Professor Shruti Puri from Yale University’s Quantum Research Program said his team wanted to use the new code for their work.

“What amazes me about this new code is its sheer elegance. Its remarkable error-correcting properties come from a simple modification of a code that has been extensively studied for nearly two decades, ”said Assistant Professor Puri.

“This is extremely relevant to a new generation of quantum technology being developed at Yale and elsewhere. With this new code, I think we’ve significantly shortened the timeline to achieve evolutionary quantum computing. ”

Co-author Dr David Tuckett from the School of Physics said, “It’s a bit like playing battleships with a quantum opponent. Theoretically, they could place their pieces anywhere on the board. But after playing millions of games, we know that certain moves are more likely. “

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