The quantum age is upon us! This era, named after quantum mechanics, is a time when people are exploiting the strange and seemingly bizarre properties of quantum mechanics for practical purposes. Now is the time to harness the power of the quantum age!
This era began in the early 20th century with the development of quantum mechanics, and it continues to this day. In the quantum age, we have now started harnessing the power of quantum mechanics to create technologies that were once thought to be impossible!
For example, we can now use quantum computers to perform calculations that are far beyond the reach of classical computers. We can also use quantum mechanics to transmit information securely, develop artificial intelligence, cyber security, and financial modelling as well, and to create powerful new sensors. The quantum age is an exciting time to be alive, and it is only going to get more exciting as we continue to find new and improved ways to exploit the power of quantum mechanics.
The Quantum Age has been strongly shaped by vacuum technology
Vacuum technology is fundamental for quantum computing. First, it allows for the isolation of qubits from their environment. This is necessary in order to prevent interference from external elements that could corrupt the qubits. Secondly, vacuum chambers are also used to cool qubits to very low temperatures, which is necessary for them to function properly.
Specials thanks to the pandemic
With fewer people around university labs, 2020 has been a great year for quantum researchers. Because of the pandemic, fewer people were moving around, meaning less noise and vibration which can lead to decoherence (loss of quantum behavior) in the experiments. Any interaction and disturbance between a quantum bit (qubit) and its environment, in fact, can cause it to fall out of its ion-specific state. These computers must be kept in an ultra-high vacuum (UHV) environment to function properly. Since quantum computers are indeed extremely delicate and susceptible to movements, the ideal place for them is, weirdly, a ghost town.
What is a quantum computer?
A quantum computer is a computer that uses quantum-mechanical phenomena, such as superposition and entanglement, to do its calculations and to perform operations on data. A quantum computer works with qubits, which are units of quantum information. Quantum computers are fundamentally different from today’s computers. They are much faster and more powerful, with outstanding potential to revolutionize computing as we know it.
Bits? No, qubits (quantum bits) instead
Traditional computers store information in bits, which can be either a 1 or a 0. Quantum computers store information in qubits (shorter for quantum bits) instead, which can be both 1 and 0 at the same time. This allows them to do multiple operations at the same time, a process known as parallel computing.
What is the difference between bits and qubits?
While traditional computers use a series of logic gates to perform operations, quantum computers utilize quantum gates, which are based on the principles of quantum mechanics. And because quantum computers aren’t limited by the laws of classical physics, they can do things that traditional computers can’t. Quantum computers are still in their early stages of development and they’re not widely available yet. But they have the potential to change the way we use computers and they’ll likely have a major impact on the world in the future.
Quantum computing today
The very first quantum computer was built around 1980 by the physicist Paul Benioff. However, this quantum computer was not able to perform any useful calculations.
In the early 1990s, physicist Richard Feynman proposed the idea of using quantum mechanical phenomena to build a computer. In the early 2000s, a team of scientists led by physicist David Deutsch built the first quantum computer that could perform useful calculations.
Today, quantum computers are tremendously fast compared to normal computers- so fast that it’s hard to even wrap your head around it. For example, Google’s quantum computer in 2019 did a calculation in 4 minutes that would take the world’s most powerful computer 10,000 years to do. That’s 158 million times faster than the fastest supercomputer built in modern times.
Why are quantum computers so fast?
For decades, computers have been stuck in the same design: whether it’s big machines at NASA or your personal laptop, they are basically just glorified calculators that can only do one thing at a time.
Quantum computers are dramatically faster than regular computers because they use quantum bits, which can be both a 1 and a 0 simultaneously. Regular computer bits can only be one or the other, so quantum computers have a big advantage in speed.
What are superposition and entanglement: matter at the atomic level
Quantum computers are able to take advantage of the strange behavior of matter at the atomic level, specifically the abilities known as “superposition” and “entanglement.”
Superposition and entanglement are two of the most important concepts in quantum mechanics. A quantum system’s capacity to be in several states at once is known as superposition. This means that a quantum system can stay in two or more different states at the same time. Entanglement is the phenomenon of two or more quantum systems being connected in such a way that they can share information and influence each other, even if they are separated by large distances.
In these operations, the atoms or ions are cooled to near absolute zero before being manipulated with precision lasers inside a UHV chamber. A UHV chamber’s internal volume can be very small (a few cubic centimeters), but it can still be kept in a vacuum using special pumps. Vacuum pumps can range in size from very small to very large, all of them able to pump the chamber down to ultra-high-vacuum (UHV).
Quantum computers are the future of technology, but they’re also very sensitive. They have to be kept in a special environment in order to work properly. The use of qubits makes them extremely fast, but also very susceptible to external influences: they are subjected to disturbances, due to the fact that any interaction between the qubit and its environment can cause it to fall out of its superposition or entanglement state. To avoid this, quantum computers must not only be kept in an ultra-high vacuum (UHV) environment but should also stay in a place free of noise and vibration.
The current ultra-high vacuum technology: Agilent Vacuum pumps
Agilent (formerly Varian) is a vacuum pump and equipment manufacturer. Agilent’s VacIon pumps offer a wide range of pumping speeds to meet any vacuum requirements, from 0.4 to 1000 L/s. You can customize the ion pumps and controllers to get the configuration you need for any application, making them the best choice for stable ultra-high or extreme-high vacuum (UHV or XHV) conditions. You can find Agilent’s range of ion pumps and control units for ultra-high (UHV) and extreme-high vacuum (XHV) here.
Vacuum technology for quantum computers: superconducting circuits
Quantum information can be stored and manipulated in ways that are fundamentally different from classical information. Quantum information can be stored in two ways: via ion traps and via superconducting circuits. The latter ones are more developed, while the former are still being researched.
Superconducting circuits require vacuum technology to work, as they need very specific circumstances. They become conductive at a specific, extremely low temperature. To keep them at this optimal temperature, dilution refrigerators (cryostats) are recycling and compressing the vapourised helium-3 before diluting it again with helium-4. Specific scroll and turbomolecular vacuum pumps are also necessary to make these cryostats work properly.
Achieving Ultra-High Vacuum for quantum computing
If you want to achieve the Ultra-High Vacuum conditions needed for quantum mechanics, you’ll need to operate a sputter ion pump and TSP (Titanium Sublimation Pumping, which provides extra high pumping speeds) at a pressure that’s below 5 x 10-4mBar (based on the element type). The reason behind this requirement is the excessive amount of particles present at higher pressures: it would make the necessary ionization process impossible. So when starting from the atmosphere level, it’s important to have good turbomolecular pumps that can remove most of the particles before the ion pump and TSP begin pumping.
Turbo pumps before ion pumps
A vacuum turbo pump is a device that helps to remove gas molecules. The turbo section is made up of rotating and fixed bladed disks (referred to as rotors and stators, respectively). When a gas molecule enters the turbo pump’s inlet, it collides with a spinning rotor blade. The momentum of the blade directs the gas molecule further into the pump. The gas is then directed to drag stages, which are made up of narrow channels that compress the gas and move it to the pump’s exhaust (foreline). The gas is exhausted into the atmosphere by a separate backing pump.
Want to learn more? Check Agilent’s turbomolecular pumps here.
Helium Leak detectors
A vacuum pump must be air-tight so that it can create a vacuum. If there are any leaks in the pump, it will not be able to create a vacuum.
There are a few reasons why helium is great for vacuum leak detection. First, helium is an inert gas, so it is safe to use and will not react with other materials. Second, helium is very light and penetrant, so it can easily travel through small cracks and leaks. This means that helium is very good at detecting leaks because it escapes quickly from any holes or cracks.
Agilent’s helium leak detectors are the most advanced and essential method of detecting leaks in UHV systems to ensure equipment vacuum integrity throughout its lifetime. Helium is the best choice for detecting leaks as it is unaffected by anything. The Helium Leak Detector (HLD), PHD-4 sniffer, and C15 component leak detector are durable, precise, and simple-to-use instruments that detect leaks in a variety of industrial applications, including circuits in quantum computers.
The Quantum age is just the beginning of an era
The quantum age we are living in is the beginning of an era where the strange and wonderful laws of quantum mechanics hold sway. This is an age of discovery, where we are learning to harness the power of the quantum realm to create new technologies and unlock the mysteries of the universe. We are on the brink of a revolution where quantum computers will enable us to solve problems that are beyond the reach of classical computers, and quantum sensors will allow us to detect things that are too small or too faint for us to see with our own eyes or present technologies. The future is full of possibilities, and the quantum age, thanks to the various vacuum technology advancements, will be a time of great advances for humanity.