No matter how sophisticated they may be, most of today's computers rely on the same basic mechanism - electrical circuits, each containing millions of tiny switches called transistors that flick between on and off. This binary system allows us to store and process complex data as strings of ones and zeros, or 'bits'.
Quantum computers could revolutionise this system. Quantum computers rely on quantum bits (nicknamed 'qubits') that can have three possible states - on, off, or both simultaneously. This weird effect, called superposition, exists only at incredibly low temperatures - fractions of a degree above absolute zero - but it could increase our computing power exponentially.
Making qubits is a huge challenge, though. Even in silicon, the most widely-used element in electronics, impurities can ruin a stable quantum bit. MacDiarmid Institute Emeritus Investigator Dr Andreas Markwitz and Principal Investigator Dr Grant Williams of Victoria University of Wellington and their team are collaborating with the University of Melbourne to develop a brand new way to produce silicon qubits.
This work involves building a world-first - a compact, pure Silicon-28 ion source, which can be used to implant quantum computing 'islands' into standard silicon wafers. This approach could provide a reliable, scalable way to produce qubits that are stable enough for use in a wide range of applications.
If this work is successful it would lead to new computer chips that would be much faster for certain kinds of problems, and would give New Zealand a significant share of the global electronics market.Dr Andreas Markwitz MacDiarmid Institute Emeritus Investigator Director for Radiation Safety Ministry of Health, Wellington