Atom Computing Honors Lesser-Known Researchers and their Contributions to Quantum Computing    

Kortny Rolston-Duce, Director of Marketing Communications

Walk through any office building and the conference rooms likely are numbered or named according to a theme such as geographic landmarks, fictional characters, or notable figures in a field.

We initially planned to take a similar approach at our newly opened research and development facility in Boulder, Colorado by recognizing well-known physicists whose research laid the groundwork for the rapidly evolving field of quantum computing.  People such as Niels Bohr, whose work on the structure of atoms earned him the 1922 Nobel Prize for Physics, or potentially Richard Feynman, one of the first to put forth the idea of quantum computers.

Then Rob Hays, our CEO, challenged us to go beyond the usual names and consider lesser-known and more diverse researchers.  We gladly accepted the challenge and naively believed such information was a few Google searches away.  It wasn’t.  Finding names and information from verified sources was a struggle – until we discovered the Center for the History of Physics at the American Institute of Physics.

We contacted the center and to our delight, Joanna Behrman, an assistant public historian, researched a list of scientists who made significant contributions to quantum physics in the early 20th century.  Each of our conference rooms now proudly display a sign outside the door commemorating these heroes of physics and computation with a brief description of their scientific breakthroughs:

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The room names have sparked conversations amongst Atom Computing staff and with customers and other visitors to our Boulder facility.  A few of our physicists didn’t know some of these researchers despite having studied and worked in the field for years.      

Sadly, many of these pioneering scientists struggled to establish careers in science once they earned their doctorates because of the limited opportunities available.

“Most of the major research institutions or universities at that time did not hire female or African- American professors,” Behrman said. “Once they graduated, it was hard for them to find positions in which they could continue their research.  Most ended up teaching at historically black or female universities or colleges and even there, some faced challenges.”

Unfortunately, that is not unusual.

“They faced overwhelming odds during the time at which they were alive to make these contributions. People like Emmy Noether made amazing contributions anyway. Her ideas about universal symmetries and conservation principles are still fundamental to physics today,” Behrman said. “If you don’t get much credit during your lifetime, it’s unlikely that you will get it after you die and people will continue to say ‘Well, I haven’t heard of her so therefore she didn’t make very many contributions.’”    

Behrman, her colleagues at the American Institute of Physics, and other organizations are trying to change that.  A team at the Niels Bohr Library and Archives produces Initial Conditions, a podcast that focuses on understudied stories in the history of physics, while Behrman and others develop lesson plans for teachers.

“In recent decades, many of these people’s names have been wonderfully resurrected from the depths of history. People are writing books and having conferences,” she said. “There are definitely movements within the physics and the history of science communities to make sure that contributions from under-recognized physicists get their due.”

At Atom Computing, we are happy to play a part in this effort and support diversity, equity, and inclusion.   We are now in the process of renaming the conference rooms at our headquarters in Berkeley, California along a similar theme.  There are many more unsung physics heroes who should be celebrated.

Stay tuned.

Tech Predictions: Wrapping Up 2022 and Looking Ahead at 2023

Rob Hays, CEO

At the beginning of last year, I published my 2022 Quantum Computing Tech Predictions.  I expected big advancements in technology development and the breadth of involvement and thought it would be interesting to look back and see how good my crystal ball was.  Here were my top six quantum computing predictions for 2022 and my comments on how it played out.

Newer quantum computing modalities would achieve eye-opening breakthroughs.

I predicted we would see an acceleration of technical demonstrations and product readiness in neutral atom technology, which in turn would build further interest in the modality and elevate awareness to be on par with the earlier technical approaches.

Neutral atom quantum computing technologies gained a lot of traction in 2022.  Various outlets published articles about the promise of neutral atoms in 2022, some of which referred to this approach as a “dark horse” in the quantum computing race or that it recently “quickened pulses in the quantum community.”  I like these descriptions because neutral atoms are a younger technology than superconducting or trapped ion systems yet are progressing rapidly. 

In May, we published a paper in Nature Communications demonstrating record coherence times of 40 seconds.  In September, researchers from various institutions won the Breakthrough Foundation’s New Horizons Prize in Physics for their work advancing optical tweezers, which are a fundamental component for neutral atom systems being developed by Atom Computing.  In November, QuEra became the first neutral atom quantum computer company to make their analog quantum computers available on the cloud via Amazon Braket.

Momentum is building in neutral atom-based quantum computing now that the technology stack has been proven to work by multiple academic and industry organizations.  I believe 2023 will be a banner year for demonstrating the scalability of the technology, which is one of the value-props that is attracting so much attention.

Increased attention on NISQ use-cases at various scales

While hardware providers are playing the long game of scaling the number of qubits to reach fault-tolerance, I predicted we would see application developers find novel ways of using Noisy Intermediate-Scale Quantum (NISQ) machines for a modest set of use-cases in financial services, aerospace, logistics, and perhaps pharma or chemistry. While I expected developers to figure out how to gain value out of NISQ systems with thousands of qubits, I didn’t think the hardware would quite get there in 2022.

Application developers did indeed deliver.  Quantum South partnered with D-Wave to study airplane cargo loading. Japan-based Qunasys proposed a hybrid quantum-classical algorithm for chemistry modeling.  Entropica Labs in Singapore developed an approach for finding minimum vertex cover (optimization for problems such as water networks, synthetic biology, and portfolio allocation.) They also deployed OpenQAOA, an open-source software development kit to create, refine, and run the Quantum Approximate Optimization Algorithm (QAOA) on NISQ devices and simulators.

Leading Cloud Service Providers would double down on quantum computing.

Citing the major cloud service providers’ unique abilities and motivation to own quantum computing hardware and software technologies, I expected US and Chinese providers to double down on quantum computing to ensure they have viable technology options that can meet their “hyper-scale” needs and capture a significant share of the value chain in the future. I predicted some will invest in multiple, competing technologies in the form of organic R&D, acquisitions, and partnerships or all the above in many cases.

This might be the hardest prediction to accurately judge the results of because much of what the cloud service providers do is shrouded in secrecy for years until they are ready to unveil new products and services.  Furthermore, the underlying infrastructure that supports their AI-driven services is often proprietary and never fully disclosed publicly. 

Nevertheless, we can see the importance of quantum computing to these companies based on their significant investments in quantum computing  people, facilities, and R&D revealed in public announcements.  The top 3 U.S. based cloud service providers each have internal teams investing in various quantum computing research to develop platforms of their own.  At the same time, they have public market places to host third-party quantum computing platforms to give users best of breed choice on what hardware to run their QIS software applications on.  While we didn’t see any major acquisitions of pure-play quantum computing companies by the cloud service providers in 2022, I think it’s only a matter of time until we do.

Investments in Quantum would continue to break records.

Coming off a record year in 2021 of venture capital investment in Quantum Computing surpassing $1.7B, according to McKinsey, some were talking of a quantum bubble and a looming quantum winter.  Given that much more investment is required to deliver large-scale quantum computing and the enormous forecasted market value, I expected the amount of money invested to continue rising with even more companies entering the race.  With one company publicly listed in Q4 2021 and two more companies signaling an intent to IPO, I said I wouldn’t be surprised to see at least five major acquisitions or IPO announcements in 2022.

There’s no doubt that the overall public and private markets took a macro-economic downturn in 2022 with the S&P500 down more than 19 percent in 2022 and the nascent publicly-traded quantum computing stocks down even further.  The two quantum companies that had announced their intent to IPO, indeed did so.  There were rumors of other SPAC deals that were scuttled as the market demand for early-stage IPOs waned.  While I said I wouldn’t have been surprised to see five or more deals, I’m not surprised that we didn’t.  It’s becoming clear that, in the current environment, public markets are not as accepting of pre-profit companies without predictable revenue growth.

Despite the public market turmoil, venture capital investments continued in quantum computing start-ups in 2022, including a $60M Series B by Atom Computing, which we are using to build our next-generation commercial quantum computing systems.  Governments around the world also continued to increase their investments in QIS research programs to gain economic and national security advantages, as described in this World Economic Forum report about global investments in quantum computing.  What’s more, these government investments are increasingly being targeted at technology diversification now that newer quantum technologies have advanced to promising stages.  I expect we will see several public announcements of more investments in these technologies around the world throughout the year.

Diversity and inclusion would be a bigger focus in Quantum Information Science

Like the broader tech industry, the QIS workforce does not represent the diverse population of our society.  I predicted we would see more cooperation in attracting talent to the ecosystem and career development support for women and minorities. As the technology and businesses mature, a broader set of job roles become available expanding beyond the physics labs of our universities. With additional job roles, an expanded talent pool, and the exciting opportunity in quantum computing, I believed we could move the needle in diversity and inclusion.

We did see a lot of focus on diversity and inclusion programs across the industry and some extraordinary efforts.  I applaud the energy and know that we can do more as an industry to help various affinity groups collaborate to advance a common agenda.

We commissioned a private study of gender diversity among the quantum computing hardware companies from publicly-available data gathered from LinkedIn as an indicator of where we stand as an industry.  According to the data set, women make up less than a quarter of the workforce in 13 quantum computing hardware companies evaluated.  Because increasing diversity has been a business priority for our company, I wasn’t surprised to see Atom Computing among the leaders with the greatest mix of female employees at 26 percent.  I was, however, surprised to see that 26 percent is the best.  That’s not nearly good enough - not by a factor of 2!  We can collectively do much better to attract, retain, and promote diverse talent if we work together among competitors and co-travellers to cooperate on supporting diversity in the QIS industry.

Regional Quantum Centers of Excellence would enable tighter collaboration.

It takes a village to build an integrated system of complex hardware, software, and services that interoperate together to deliver a superior user experience. I predicted that collaborations would emerge among universities, government research labs, and private companies to provide environments of innovation in their regions to gain an advantage over other regions in the quantum computing race.

We are seeing quantum ecosystems emerge and/or strengthen across the country.  Atom, for example, joined the University of Colorado’s Cubit Quantum Initiative, the Chicago Quantum Exchange, and the Pistoia Alliance. We also partnered on National Science Foundation proposals to expand regional workforce development programs and bolster the quantum ecosystem in the intermountain West.

The National Science Foundation and other government agencies have been instrumental in the effort to build regional quantum computing hubs that enable researchers from academia, industry, and national labs and other federal entities to connect and collaborate.

Looking ahead in 2023, I think this trend will continue and we will see many of these organizations, especially those funded by federal agencies, to include and/or expand their focus on neutral atom quantum computing technologies and partnering with companies like Atom Computing.

While my crystal ball wasn’t perfect in predicting 2022, I would say that the trends I discussed are largely in line with the results achieved as Atom Computing and the quantum computing industry made big strides in bringing scalable quantum computing technology to the hands of researchers and users who are looking to achieve unprecedented computational results.  I think that progress will only accelerate as we head into 2023 and beyond.

What are Optical Tweezer Arrays and How are They Used in Quantum Computing? Atom Computing’s Remy Notermans Explains.

In recent months, researchers from different institutions won major physics awards for advancing optical tweezer arrays and their use in quantum information sciences.

These announcements drew broader attention to optical tweezer arrays, even in the physics community.  At Atom Computing, however, they are always top-of-mind – optical tweezers are critical to our atomic array quantum computing technology. 

What are optical tweezer arrays and how and why do we use them in our quantum computers? Dr. Remy Notermans, who helped develop the optical tweezer array for Phoenix, our prototype system, answers these questions and more.

What are optical tweezer arrays?
A single optical tweezer is a beam of light used to capture atoms, molecules, cells, or nanoparticles, hold them in place or move them as needed. 

This is possible because light can attract or repulse a particle depending on the color (wavelength) of the light and the absorption properties (electronic energy level structure) of the particle.  By choosing the right wavelength, a particle will be drawn or attracted to the region with the highest intensity of light, trapped in what is known as a potential well (the energy landscape in which an atom wants to go to the lowest point.)

An optical tweezer is created when a laser beam is focused through a microscope objective lens. As the laser beam gets focused it forms into a "tweezer" capable of holding miniscule objects and manipulating them in its focal point. Think of the tractor beam from Star Trek.

To create an optical tweezer array, the laser beam is manipulated before it is focused through a microscope object lens to create a custom-made array of optical tweezers that can be tailored to specific needs – topology, dimensions, and orientation.

Are optical tweezer arrays a new technology?
Optical tweezers have been used by researchers in the fields of medicine, genetics, and chemistry for decades. In fact, Arthur Ashkin, “the father of optical tweezers,” was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2018. Ashkin’s work dates to 1970 when he first detected optical scattering and the effect of different levels of force on particles the size of microns.  He and some of his colleagues later observed a focused beam of light holding tiny particles in place – or optical tweezers.

More recent scientific work has expanded to actual arrays of optical tweezers, allowing for studying many particles simultaneously, biophysics research, and of course quantum information processing.

How does Atom Computing use optical tweezer arrays? What are the benefits?
Optical tweezers are critical to our atomic array quantum computing technology, which uses neutral atoms as qubits.  We reflect a laser beam off a spatial light modulator to create an array of many optical tweezers that each “trap” an individual qubit.  For example, Phoenix, our 100-qubit prototype quantum computer, has more than 200 optical tweezers created from a single laser. Each tweezer can be individually calibrated and optimized to ensure precise control. 

Optical tweezer arrays enable us to fit many qubits in a very small amount of space, which means that scaling the number of qubits by orders of magnitude does not significantly change the size of our quantum processing unit.  By integrating clever optical designs, we foresee a sustainable path toward atomic arrays that are large enough for fault-tolerant quantum computing.

In fact, optical tweezers inspired the Atom Computing logo.  If you turn our “A” logo upside down, it is a visual representation of an optical tweezer holding an atom in a potential well.

Are optical tweezer arrays used for other purposes?
Yes, optical tweezer arrays have been used extensively by researchers in other scientific fields. They have been used by scientists to trap living cells, viruses, bacteria, molecules, and even DNA strands so they can be studied.

Has the work of the New Horizons Physics Prize winners influenced Atom Computing’s approach? If so, how? 
We understand this is a fundamental part of the academic-industrial ecosystem, which is why Atom Computing is involved with many partnerships and funds academic research efforts that potentially help us propel our technology forward.  Combined with the knowledge and experience of our world-class engineering teams, we take these breakthroughs to the next level in terms of scalability, robustness, and systems integration.


What Developers Need to Know about our Atomic Array Quantum Computing Technology

Justin Ging, Chief Product Officer

If you are a developer working in the quantum computing space, you are familiar with or have run a circuit on a superconducting or trapped ion quantum computer. 

These two technologies were the early pioneers of the quantum hardware landscape and small versions of each have been available commercially for years.  A major challenge with these approaches is how to scale them to thousands or millions of qubits with error correction.

More recently, an alternative quantum computing technology with the potential to scale much quicker and easier has emerged - systems based on atomic arrays of neutral atoms.   These systems have inherent advantages, which have led to multiple teams developing them.  

But just as there is more than one way to cook an egg, there are different approaches to building quantum computers from atomic arrays.

At Atom Computing, we are pioneering an approach to deliver highly scalable gate-based quantum computing systems with large numbers of qubits, long coherence times, and high fidelities. 

Here are some key advantages of our atomic array quantum computing technology:

  1. Long coherence times.  Most quantum hardware companies measure coherence in units of milliseconds.  We measure it in seconds. The Atom team recently set a record for the longest coherence time in a quantum computer with Phoenix, our first-generation 100-qubit system. Phoenix demonstrated qubit coherence times of 21 seconds.  The longer qubits maintain their quantum state, the better.  Developers can run deeper circuits for more complex calculations and there is more time to detect and correct errors during computation.  How do we create such long-lived qubits? Weuse alkaline earth atoms for our qubits. These atoms do not have an electrical charge, thus they are “neutral.”  Each atom is identical, which helps with quality control, and are highly immune to environmental noise.
  2. Flexible, gate-based architecture.  Atom Computing is focused on developing a flexible and agile platform for quantum computing by supporting a universal quantum gate-set that can be programmed using standard industry quantum development platforms.  This gate-based approach allows developers to create a wide range of quantum algorithms for many use cases.  Our qubit connectivity uses Rydberg interactions where the atoms are excited to a highly energized level using laser pulses causing their electrons to orbit the nucleus at a greater distance than their ground state to interact with nearby atoms.
  3. Designed to scale.  Neutral atoms can be tightly packed into a computational array of qubits, making the quantum processor core just fractions of a cubic millimeter.  Lasers hold the atomic qubits in position in this tight array and manipulate their quantum states wirelessly with pulses of light to perform computations. This arrangement of individually trapped atoms, spaced only microns apart, allows for massive scalability, as it is possible to expand the qubit array size without substantially changing the overall footprint of the system.  For example, at a 4-micron pitch between each atom and arranged in a 3D array, a million qubits could fit in less than 1/10th of a cubic millimeter volume.

Developers looking for gate-based quantum computers with large numbers of qubits with long coherence times, should be looking to partner with Atom Computing.  We are working with private beta partners to facilitate their research on our platforms. Have questions about partnering? Contact us.

Assembly and Coherent Control of a Register of Nuclear Spin Qubits | Nature

FoThe generation of a register of highly coherent, but independent, qubits is a prerequisite to performing universal quantum computation. Here we introduce a qubit encoded in two nuclear spin states of a single 87Sr atom and demonstrate coherence approaching the minute-scale within an assembled register of individually-controlled qubits. While other systems have shown impressive coherence times through some combination of shielding, careful trapping, global operations, and dynamical decoupling, we achieve comparable coherence times while individually driving multiple qubits in parallel. We highlight that even with simultaneous manipulation of multiple qubits within the register, we observe coherence in excess of 105 times the current length of the operations, with Techo2=(40±7)T2echo=(40±7) seconds. 

Establishing World-Record Coherence Times on Nuclear Spin qubits made from neutral atoms

Mickey McDonald, Senior Quantum Engineer

Coherence Times Matter

When building a quantum computer, the need to isolate qubits from environmental effects must be balanced against the need to engineer site-specific, controllable interactions with external fields. In our paper recently published in Nature Communications, we show results from our first-generation quantum computing system called Phoenix, which successfully navigates these competing requirements while demonstrating the capability to load more than 100 qubits. The most notable achievement we describe in this paper is the long coherence times of each of our qubits. Coherence is a term used to describe how long a qubit maintains its quantum state or encoded information. It’s important because longer coherence times mean fewer limitations on running deep circuits, and error-correction schemes have more time to detect and correct errors through mid-circuit measurements. On Phoenix, we set a new high water mark for coherence time.

Ramsey-echo measurements performed on an array of 21 qubits exhibit high contrast across tens of seconds, indicating a dephasing rate of T2echo = 40 +/- 7 seconds - the longest coherence time ever demonstrated on a commercial platform.

Achieving long coherence times requires that a qubit interact minimally with its environment, but this requirement often comes with a drawback: it is usually the case that the more weakly a qubit interacts with its environment, the more difficult it is to couple that qubit to whatever control fields are being used to drive interactions required to perform quantum computation. We manage these competing requirements by using a clever choice of neutral atom-based qubit, and by performing single-qubit control using software-configurable dynamic lasers which can be steered and actuated with sub-micron spatial accuracy and sub-microsecond timing precision.

Simultaneous Control of Qubits 

Our software-configurable optical control scheme allows Phoenix to simultaneously drive arbitrary single-qubit gate operations on all qubits within a single column or row in parallel, while at the same time maintaining coherence times longer than any yet demonstrated on a commercial platform, with a measured T2echo = 40 +/- 7 seconds.

A high-level drawing of Phoenix. Qubits are trapped within a vacuum cell and controlled using software-configurable dynamic lasers projected through a high-numerical aperture microscope objective. Readout is performed by collecting scattered light through the same microscope objective onto a camera.

Our system encodes quantum information, i.e. the qubit states |0> and |1>, in two of the nuclear spin states of a single, uncharged strontium atom. This kind of qubit encoding has two key advantages. First, because both qubit states exist in the electronic ground state, the time it takes for one state to spontaneously decay to the other (AKA the spin-relaxation time “T1”) is effectively infinite. We demonstrate this on Phoenix by making spin relaxation measurements out to several seconds and confirming that the relative populations in each state remain unchanged to the limits of measurement precision.

The spin relaxation time (known as “T1”) describes how long it takes for a qubit initially prepared in one qubit state to decay to another. A short T1 would manifest as a line which starts near 1 and drifts downward. That our measured population can be fit with a horizontal line with no apparent downward drift indicates that our spin relaxation time is far longer than our longest measurement time.

The second key advantage of nuclear spin qubits is that because the qubit states have such similar energies, they are nearly identically affected by external fields. This means that perturbations, such as those induced by externally applied trapping light, will affect both qubit states in the same way. Because these perturbations are common-mode, they do not impact the system’s overall coherence - a feature which fundamentally enables our world-record coherence times.

Our Path Forward

This paper describing Phoenix demonstrates several key technological innovations necessary for the construction of a large-scale, commercial quantum computer: long coherence times, the ability to drive arbitrary single qubit operations across large portions of the array in parallel, and the ability to trap 100+ qubits (and far beyond in the future). As we develop our second-generation quantum computers, we will build on the proven architecture and successes demonstrated on Phoenix to scale up to systems with fidelities and qubit numbers high enough to solve problems that cannot be solved with classical computers. Stay tuned and sign up for our Tech Perspectives blog series to learn more!

Quantum Computing Value as it Scales to Thousands of Qubits

Rob Hays, CEO
 
Rob Hays discusses Atom Computing’s architecture of nuclear-spin qubits made from neutral atoms. He shares how the technology will enable large-scale quantum computers and the necessity for coherent, error-corrected systems -- exploring applications and use-cases that quantum computing can help solve as the system scales to 1,000s of qubits and beyond.

Building Scalable Quantum Computers from Arrays of Neutral Atoms

Krish Kotru, Quantum Engineering Manager

Arrays of neutral atoms have emerged as a more promising platform for scalable quantum computation due to the rapid advancements in optical trapping and controlling of individually trapped atoms. Krish discusses the technology enabling the assembly of such arrays and recent results demonstrating parallel coherent control and world-record coherence times. He also surveys ongoing work demonstrating interactions between atoms in Rydberg states that enable high-quality two qubit gates.

Highly Coherent Qubits and the Path to Error Correction

Jonathan King, Co-Founder & Chief Scientist

Realizing the full value of quantum computing will require error correction to suppress the errors intrinsic to quantum systems. Practically, this requires high-quality qubits in a sufficiently large quantity. Jonathan discusses the application of error correction in quantum computing and describes a path to error correction with neutral atoms.

How Boutique Quantum Specialist Firms are Addressing Industry Applications with Atom Computing

Denise Ruffner, Chief Business Officer, Atom Computing
Markus Braun, Founder and Managing Director, JoS Quantum
Rafael Sotelo, Co-Founder, Quantum South
Tennin Yan, QunaSys

Quantum has the potential to solve challenging computation challenges across a variety of industries. While there is growing consensus on the types of problems addressable through quantum (optimization, machine learning acceleration, and simulation), the development of solutions for individual industries and organizations will require focused attention and development by domain experts. In this panel, we will discuss how boutique quantum specialist firms are addressing real world problems and how they will leverage the latest quantum hardware advances to bring value to organizations.