Intel hits major milestone as it moves towards mass production of quantum computer chips

Intel hits major milestone as it moves toward mass production of quantum computer chips

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Intel Corp.’s two primary research organizations, Intel Labs and Components Research, announced today that they’re making big progress as they work toward large-scale production of quantum computing processors.

At the 2022 Silicon Quantum Electronics Workshop in Orford, Quebec, Intel’s researchers said that they’ve been able to demonstrate the highest reported yield and uniformity rate when manufacturing “silicon spin qubit devices” at the company’s transistor research and development facility. The research is believed to be a key milestone for Intel as it moves toward being able to fabricate quantum computing chips on its existing transistor manufacturing processes.

Intel is a key player in the race to build quantum computers, which are more advanced machines that encode data as “qubits,” as opposed to the conventional bits used in traditional computers. The advantage of qubits is they’re not restricted to states of 1 or 0. They can also exist as both states at the same time, a characteristic that’s known as superposition.

That’s thanks to the quirks of quantum physics. Intel likens qubits to a coin that could be heads, tails or spinning nonstop. While the coin is spinning, it can be considered as head and tail at the same time.

As Intel explains further, if a spinning coin is able to represent two states at once, then two spinning coins can represent four states: HH, TT, HT, TH. From there, the possibilities expand rapidly, with three spinning coins able to represent eight states.

What’s important to understand is that qubits’ ability to represent multiple states makes them vastly more powerful than traditional bits. As such, the more qubits there are in a quantum computer, the more capable the machine will be.

What’s surprising is that, as magical as these qubits might seem, they’re actually manufactured in the same way as traditional computer chips. They’re produced on silicon wafers as “spin qubits,” with the biggest difference being that they’re much more fragile. They can only exist at incredibly low temperatures to maintain their stability.

Until now, most research processes have focused on creating one quantum chip at a time. That’s what Intel has done differently, instead using existing extreme ultraviolet lithography techniques to create a typical 300-millimeter wafer packed with multiple quantum chips. According to Intel, its prototypes demonstrate the strongest uniformity thus far, with a yield rate of around 95%.

An image from Intel’s cryoprober during automation shows the quantum qubit devices at 1.6 Kelvin, where quantum dots can be formed in all 16 locations (four sensors and 12 qubit locations) and tuned to the last (single) electron without requiring engineer input. These results, enabled by Intel-fabricated device uniformity and repeatability, were collected across the entire wafer. The system is continually operated to generate the largest set of quantum dot device data reported to date.

Intel Director of Quantum Hardware James Clarke said the research shows that the idea of fabricating quantum chips on the company’s existing transistor process nodes is a “sound strategy” that will deliver results as the technology matures.

Because Intel has achieved higher yield and uniformity versus earlier chips, it can now use statistical process control techniques to identify areas of the fabrication process that can be optimized. In this way, it can accelerate its research efforts and hopefully scale one day to mass-produce thousands or even millions of qubits for commercial quantum computers.

“In the future, we will continue to improve the quality of these devices and develop larger scale systems, with these steps serving as building blocks to help us advance quickly,” Clarke said.

Holger Mueller of Constellation Research Inc. said Intel is desperate to keep making waves in terms of semiconductor innovation, even if those advances come in more obscure areas such as quantum computing. “Achieving quality and high yields is key for all computer chip production, and it looks as if Intel has made a key breakthrough in terms of the quality and reliability of mass produced quantum chips,” he said. “Intel deserves congratulations for its work, emerging as an early leader in the development of new chip platforms that will likely be crucial in the not-so-distant future.”

Images: Intel

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