Manufacturing Bits: March 30

Open access quantum computing; X-ray laser rental; giant telescope.


Open access quantum computing
Sandia National Laboratories has begun offering an open access program for its quantum computing testbed.

Sandia will enable researchers to explore a range of new technologies, such as chemistry, materials science and mathematics, using its so-called Quantum Scientific Computing Open User Testbed (QSCOUT). Quantum computers promise to solve problems that are too complex for traditional computers.

Quantum computing is different than traditional computing. In classical computing, the information is stored in bits, which can be either a “0” or “1”. In quantum computing, information is stored in quantum bits, or qubits, which can exist as a “0” or “1” or a combination of both.

The superposition state enables a quantum computer to perform millions of calculations at once, enabling it to outperform a traditional system. But quantum computing is still in its infancy and has a long way to go.

Today, government agencies, companies and R&D organizations are developing quantum computers using different technologies. For example, IBM is developing quantum computers using superconducting technology. Others are developing systems using silicon-based qubits.

In contrast, QSCOUT is a quantum computer testbed based on trapped ions. Sandia plans to expand the system from three to 32 qubits over the next three years. “Trapped ions are held inside QSCOUT in a so-called ‘trap on a chip,’ a flat, bow tie-shaped device, about 2cm (0.8 inches) long, overlaid on a semiconductor chip,” according to Sandia. “Three electrically charged atoms of the element ytterbium are suspended in place by radio waves and an electric field above a hairline channel that runs down the center of the device. Lasers encode information in each ion as a qubit, comparable to a bit in a conventional computer, to perform calculations.”

Indiana University recently ran the first experiments on Sandia’s testbed. IBM, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the University of New Mexico and the University of California at Berkeley will begin experiments soon.

Sandia will entertain more research proposals. Anyone can submit a proposal to use QSCOUT, and computing time is free thanks to funding from the U.S. Department of Energy.

“QSCOUT serves a need in the quantum community by giving users the controls to study the machine itself, which aren’t yet available in commercial quantum computing systems. It also saves theorists and scientists from the trouble of building their own machines. We hope to gain new insights into quantum performance and architecture as well as solve problems that require quantum computation,” said Sandia physicist and QSCOUT lead Susan Clark.

Sandia National Laboratories physicist Susan Clark leads the team that built QSCOUT (Photo by Bret Latter)

X-ray laser rental
The European XFEL is developing a new instrument, allowing users to set up their own experiment stations in the world’s largest free-electron X-ray laser facility.

The European XFEL, an international research facility, consists of an enormous underground superconducting linear accelerator. This in turn propels a free-electron X-ray laser. The system generates ultrashort X-ray flashes at 27,000 times per second.

In the facility, there are various stations to conduct experiments and image samples. Using European XFEL, researchers can explore a multitude of technologies, such as mapping the atomic details of viruses, deciphering the molecular composition of cells, and taking three-dimensional images of chemical reactions.

Work is underway to develop a new instrument in the facility. The instrument, called the SXP, stands for “Soft X-ray Port.” SXP will give users the ability to temporarily set up their own experiment stations at the facility.

So far, there are three entities taking advantage of SXP. One group is using it as a laboratory for astrophysics and atomic physics. A second community is using it for chemistry. And another one aims to perform time and angle-resolved photoelectron spectroscopy experiments in solids.

Giant telescope
The world’s largest telescope in China recently finished 15 months of listening to the sounds of the universe.

The Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST) is a single-dish radio telescope the size of 30 soccer fields. The National Astronomical Observatories of Chinese Academy of Science (NAOC) launched the $171 million system in 2020 after nine years in construction.

Data collected by the telescope has resulted in more than 60 peer-reviewed publications. FAST’s next observing period will run from August of 2021 to July of 2022. Users of any nationality or affiliation are invited to submit proposals of less than 100 observing hours for the upcoming period. Proposals are accepted between March 31 to May 15, 2021.

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