There's no doubt that quantum computing will radically transform our world, bringing paradigm shifts in everything from cyber security and financial analysis to bioinformatics and machine learning. But before any of this can happen, significant technological advances are needed to build commercially scalable quantum computers.
That's where researchers at Simon Fraser University (SFU) come in. A team led by professor of physics Mike Thewalt is pioneering the use of silicon to build a universal quantum computer. Their research is highly promising, and the Silicon Quantum Leap project recently received over $7.6-million from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), one of five SFU-led research projects benefiting from the CFI Innovation Fund that together received $21.7-million from its latest round of project funding.
Over the past two decades, Dr. Thewalt's research has focused on the unique optical properties of isotopically enriched silicon and applying those properties to quantum information technology. "Spin qubits [quantum bits] in silicon have remarkably good properties compared to qubits in other systems, but what has been missing is a method to couple them together to perform logical operations, and a method to move the quantum information from one qubit to another," he says. "We believe that our project will demonstrate a new way to achieve these goals."
The CFI funding will enable the team to purchase the highly specialized equipment and instruments it needs to develop this technology further. Quantum bits are notoriously prone to decoherence and perform optimally in environments that are colder than interstellar space by many orders of magnitude.
"The investments in infrastructure for this and other CFI-funded projects help cement our continued relationships with industry, creating opportunities for innovation through excellent science and research that will lead to the next generation of innovation," says Joy Johnson, SFU's vice-president of research and international.
Dr. Thewalt and his team have partnership agreements in place with D-Wave, a company based in Burnaby, B.C., whose quantum computing systems are currently being used by NASA, Google and other leading global institutions.
"This is a nice example of how fundamental research, combined with close connections to industry, can help close that gap between invention and innovation," says Dr. Johnson.
She adds that like the other four SFU-led projects that recently received CFI funding, the quantum computing project also builds on partnerships and collaborations with other post-secondary institutions.
"Although Canada is a big country geographically, we are small in population. You need a critical mass of people to work on cutting-edge projects, and through partnerships with other universities and industry we can create that mass and move Canada to the next level."
Dr. Johnson has high praise for the other four SFU-led projects, which involve research on wearable biomedical technologies, molecular and materials physics, and multi-scale remote sensing, as well as the creation of a high-performance computing centre connected to the ATLAS experiment at TRIUMF.
"With each of these projects, the infrastructure investments will benefit both SFU researchers and those from other institutions," she says. "A great example of this is the funding for the Tier-1 data centre at TRIUMF, which provides the infrastructure needed to process the incredible volume of data associated with research being done at TRIUMF and CERN to investigate the very nature of our universe itself."
Dr. Johnson says that SFU's remarkable success in the latest round of CFI funding speaks to the value of the institution's broader innovation strategy, SFU Innovates. The four pillars of the strategy – social innovation, entrepreneurship, incubation and acceleration, and industry and community research partnerships – provide a focus for researchers and students at SFU to collaborate on innovative ideas with the potential to provide transformative benefits for society.
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