Aragon is in the global race to manufacture quantum processor

In the basement of the Faculty of Science in Zaragoza, the soundtrack is the rhythmic sound of a helium compressor lowering the temperature enough to make A very special kind of physicsThis is where quantum phenomena begin to appear.

Before they are fully defined, new quantum technologies are already strategic. “Quantum technologies will give a huge advantage to countries that master them -Researcher Pepa Martinez confirms-. “These partnerships will be able to reduce their dependence on GPS networks, ensure secure data communications, and make financial forecasts.”

Moreover, mastery of quantum technologies will mean a leap in the ability to make groundbreaking advances in many areas of science, “whether applied research (synthesis, materials design…) or basic sciences (physics, space science…).” Fernando Luis, from the Q-MAD (Quantum Materials and Devices) group, adds that they are called upon to play a decisive role in the fields related to aviation and medical devices. “They would also probably assume so Noticeable progress in the way information is delivered“Which carries the risk of creating first- and second-tier states in a strategic aspect like this which actually creates some tensions,” he warned. As for computing, “it is still difficult to know its scope, perhaps a long-term term, but there will certainly be applications in improving processes, materials, medicines, etc.”

In this highly relevant field, Aragon is a leading player from the Institute of Nano and Materials Sciences of Aragon (INMA), a joint center of the Superior Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) and the University of Zaragoza. He just received the Severo Ochoa Accreditation for Scientific Excellence, which recognizes research centers in Spain that stand out as leaders in their field. It is the first center in Aragon to obtain this seal. One of the three strategic lines that make up the INMA Severo Ochoa project focuses on quantum technologies.

For ten years, Aragon has had its own lines of research in this field, which can be recognized at the international level. Theoretical aspects are developed, such as the development of algorithms for various applications and the analysis and design of new quantum and photonic circuits. On the other hand, several groups They are working on developing hardware, including a prototype quantum processorUltra-sensitive superconducting sensors to characterize materials, radiation detectors for space missions, in addition to electronic devices to control the aforementioned devices.

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In the global race

The global race to manufacture a quantum processor, or more broadly, a quantum computer, has been accelerated by the direct participation of computing giants such as Intel, Google and IBM, which have their own projects, as well as by the establishment of strategic support programs in several countries. but, “There is not yet a clear idea of ​​which technology will be most efficient to achieve the computational power needed to solve problems of social and economic concern.”“, points out Lewis. The Aragon team has its own idea: to develop a new quantum processor based on magnetic particles and superconducting circuits.

The interior of cutting-edge scientific equipment housing one of the prototypes of a quantum processor It looks like a gem At the same time, it is reminiscent of Gaudí’s beautiful inverted models.

Today is access day to the experiments which, each on its own “floor”, take place inside the dilution refrigerator, which is a huge “bottle” but made of helium, the only element that does not solidify when cold and which is used in… Maintaining temperatures very close to absolute zero continuously.

At the bottom, in the cooler area, two strips are installed, “We are testing whether we can make a molecule capable of encrypting a qubit, the basic unit of quantum information, correcting itself, and correcting its errors.”. Through microwave lines, they exchange information with the prototype of a quantum processor, sending signals and collecting their responses. They are all only 8 thousandths above absolute zero.

Cold and gold

Why so cold? Lewis explains that quantum phenomena are fragile, so “it is necessary to reduce noise so that we can observe them. Temperature is noise, so most quantum processors must operate at very low temperatures.” “It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, a Russian doll,” he describes, where everything is golden. There is a compelling reason: that the elements do not heat each other and that the temperature on each plate is as uniform as possible. Gold-plated copper with very few impurities conducts heat well and reflects light as if it were a mirror.

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Marcos Rubin, Nacho Jimeno and Carolina del Río are three young researchers working on this path to reach quantum computing developed from scratch in Zaragoza. The proposal, different from that explored by other teams in the world, “is based on trying to do just that Use each molecule as a little quantum processor“It is able to correct its own errors and ‘wire’ them using superconducting circuits on a chip, which would help solve one of quantum computing’s most important challenges: scaling computing power while keeping the system safe from noise.”

In the last five years, this project, led by the Q-MAD group, in collaboration with multidisciplinary groups – chemists, physicists, engineers -, Attracted an investment of more than 2 million euros to Aragon.

Also in tight competition, Pepa Martínez received one of the coveted start-up grants from the European Research Council in 2021. Thanks to her, the CSIC scientist at INMA was able to form a group and acquire expensive equipment, and another dilution refrigerator – there are only two or three more in Spain -You would not have been able to finance it through other means.

Cutting-edge electronics surrounds Pepa Martínez’s experiment on quantum technologies at the Institute of Nano and Materials Sciences of Aragon (CSIC-Unizar)
Guillermo Mestre

“this “It allows us to conduct cutting-edge experiments, and in addition, it has also helped me achieve stability.”He says. A few years after the laboratory was established, the QFaST project began to take off. “We have very interesting years ahead of us: I hope to prove that magnetic materials can play an important role, and we will try to use them for certain tasks such as building logic gates and quantum sensors,” he says. In this laboratory, David García and Jorge Pérez are taking their first steps in research, a path they know is “complicated to maintain, not a short-term thing.” Now they have to go abroad to continue training.

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This year, the Master’s program in Quantum Technologies was opened, coordinated by David Zojko. He’s glad they already have 50 pre-registered, which is proof that “that’s the way it is.” “It is a very attractive field to do research and find work.” “Quantum technologies promise to be disruptive and many companies want to have professionals in this field,” he says, knowing the facts, as “three of the TFG students in the last two courses are already working in companies that have hired them for their knowledge of quantum technology.” Quantum technologies.” The challenge is to retain research talent.

Fernando Luis Fears that “Aragon’s leadership in quantum technologies will not be adequately used and that other developed countries starting later will place themselves ahead of us”. In recent years, this area has received a boost in Aragon, especially due to the realization of competitive international projects led by INMA, as well as the additional support provided by recovery funds.

“It is difficult to say whether this momentum will continue in the future, because there is no specific programme In this area, in contrast to what has been done by societies such as the Basque Country – through the Basque Initiative, the Basque Government will invest 200 million euros in four years – or Catalonia, Galicia or Castilla and Leon, among others.

The realization of the Severo Ochoa brand for INMA is a silver lining, which she hopes “will serve as a lever to maintain or increase the level of funding.” And in Aragon it stands out, “There are great groups out there and in the quantum and artificial intelligence space we have options and we can get on the train with more support from the autonomous community.”

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