Achievement unlocked: Microsoft achieves first step in quantum computer plan

Microsoft Quantum researchers say they have achieved the first milestone in the company’s efforts to create a reliable quantum computer.

The paper published in Physical Review B presents measurements and simulations which the company says confirms it has achieved the first milestone in its work towards a reliable, useful quantum computer: “create and control Majoranas: achieved”.

Director of Sydney Nano Institute and theoretical quantum physicist Professor Stephen Bartlett describes the achievement as significant, and provides “strong evidence” supporting Microsoft’s claims, but says there’s a long way to go before the technology can be used to build a quantum computer.

Bartlett says researchers and technology companies are pursuing various approaches and techniques in their pursuit of the quantum computer, including atoms, superconductors, and particles of light photons.

Where did it come from?

Around a decade ago Microsoft set out to try to build devices for a quantum computer out of Majorana particles, he says.

While these particles had never been observed in nature, theorists predicted they could be created in a particular type of semiconductor device and used to build the components for a robust quantum computer.

Bartlett says there has been some controversy about Microsoft’s initial claims about Majorana particles. 

But he says the paper, “is one of the first that’s given really strong evidence that they have actually created or observed this new type of particle in this in this system. 

“That doesn’t mean that now everyone is convinced. But now there’s quite a detailed research result published in a reputable scientific journal, and the broad consensus is, okay, they do see strong evidence of this type of particle.”

While this represents a key step in Microsoft’s plan, there’s still a long way to go when it comes to making a quantum device out of those observed particles, Bartlett says.

Microsoft’s blog outlines the next steps in the company’s plan, including: hardware-protected qubit; high quality hardware-protected qubit; multi-qubit system; resilient quantum system; and finally, quantum supercomputer.

A number of technology companies, like Microsoft, regard quantum computing as key to their future. They are investing significantly in quantum research and often have in-house expertise and research labs.

Bartlett says its still early days, and the technology for building quantum computing devices remains “really open”.

He says that’s why it is important that while some researchers continue working on the engineering challenge of pushing existing quantum technologies to the limit, others are focused on developing the next generation of quantum devices. He says the Microsoft paper is a significant result in the latter case.

The Sydney Nano Institute is based at the University of Sydney. The University of Sydney has a research partnership with Microsoft working on its broader quantum program.

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