Researchers in Professor of Engineering Jelena Vuckovic’s lab are pursuing smaller, faster computers with work in the cutting-edge field of quantum computing.
Most current computing is based on a binary system of ones and zeros generated by electricity. Instead of using electricity and digits, quantum computing analyzes particles of light called quanta, emitted by lasers striking single electrons. The light particles indicate the way each electron is spinning; they allow transmission of more complicated information than would be possible with just binary numbers.
“That greater range of possibilities forms the basis for more complex computing,” Marina Radulaski, a postdoctoral fellow in Vuckovic’s lab, told Stanford News.
According to Vuckovic, whose research is at the forefront of quantum computing, the technology is applicable to a wide variety of problems involving many variables — for example, issues in fields like cryptography and data mining.
“When people talk about finding a needle in a haystack, that’s where quantum computing comes in,” Vuckovic said.
For the last two decades, Vuckovic has sought to develop new kinds of quantum computer chips. Recently, she has joined forces with others around the globe to test out three different ways of isolating electrons for interaction with lasers.
Each of the three strategies leverages semiconductor crystals, a material whose lattice of atoms can be modified subtly to hold electrons.
Many companies tackling quantum computing seek to cool materials almost to absolute zero, the temperature at which atoms stop moving. But one of the materials Vuckovic and her colleagues have been exploring could function at standard room temperatures. This normal-temperature option could help quantum computing become more widespread.
“To fully realize the promise of quantum computing we will have to develop technologies that can operate in normal environments,” Vuckovic said. “The materials we are exploring bring us closer toward finding tomorrow’s quantum processor.”
“We don’t know yet which approach is best, so we continue to experiment,” she added.
Contact Hannah Knowles at hknowles ‘at’ stanford.edu.