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Photonic quantum processor chips enable Large-scale programmable photonic Quantum computers

Quantum technology (QT) applies quantum mechanical properties such as quantum entanglement, quantum superposition, and No-cloning theorem to quantum systems such as atoms, ions, electrons, photons, or molecules. Quantum bit is the basic unit of quantum information.  Whereas in a classical system, a bit is either in one state or the another. However, quantum qubits can exist in large number of states simultaneously,  property called  Superposition. Quantum entanglement is a phenomenon where entangled particles can stay connected in the sense that the actions performed on one of the particles affects the other no matter what’s the distance between them. No-cloning theorem tells us that quantum information (qubit) cannot be copied.


Quantum computers shall bring power of massive parallel processing, equivalent of supercomputer to a single chip. They can consider different possible solutions to a problem simultaneously, quickly converge on the correct solution without check each possibility individually. This dramatically speed up certain calculations, such as number factoring.


The power of quantum computers depends on the number of qubits and their quality measured by coherence, and gate fidelity. Qubit is very fragile, can be disrupted by things like tiny changes in temperature or very slight vibrations. Coherence measures the time during which quantum information is preserved. The gate fidelity uses distance from ideal gate to decide how noisy a quantum gate is. Photonics is one promising alternative as photons can represent qubits and are less environmentally affected than other particles.


Quantum processors are implemented with a variety of physical systems, and quantum processors with tens of qubits have been already reported. The leading physical systems for quantum computing include superconducting circuits, trapped ions, silicon quantum dots, and so on. However, scalable implementation of fault-tolerant quantum computers is still a major challenge for any physical system due to the inherent fragility of quantum states.


In order to protect fragile quantum states from disturbance, most of these physical systems need to be fully isolated from the external environment by keeping the systems at cryogenic temperature in dilution refrigerators or in a vacuum environment inside metal chambers.


Photonic quantum computing is one of the leading approaches to universal quantum computation. Photonic systems have several unique and advantageous features. First, quantum states of photons are maintained without vacuum or cooling systems due to their extremely weak interaction with the external environment. In other words, photonic quantum computers can work in an atmospheric environment at room temperature. Second, photons are an optimal information carrier for quantum communication since they propagate at the speed of light and offer large bandwidth for a high data transmission capacity. Therefore, photonic quantum computers are completely compatible with quantum communication.


The large bandwidth of photons also provides high-speed (high clock frequency) operation in photonic quantum computers. These advantageous features, together with mature technologies to prepare and manipulate photonic quantum states with linear optical elements and nonlinear crystals, have made photonic systems one of the leading approaches to building quantum computers.


Photonic quantum computers not only work at room temperature, they’re also integrable into existing fiber optic-based telecommunications infrastructure—one day perhaps enabling powerful quantum networks and even possibly a quantum Internet.


However, photonic quantum computers have faced problems of their own. For example, although Chinese scientists last year reported a photonic quantum computer demonstrating quantum advantage—solving a problem they say would take the world’s current top supercomputer 600 million years to accomplish. However, the bulkiness of the setup and the amount of photons it lost during operations suggest this design was not scalable. Moreover, its circuitry was not reconfigurable, and therefore could only execute a single algorithm.


Now Toronto-based Xanadu has developed a photonic quantum chip it says is programmable, can execute multiple algorithms, and is potentially highly scalable.


New record for generating multiple entangled optical qubits on a quantum computing chip

Photons have the advantage of preserving entanglement over long distances and time periods but the biggest technological challenge is the generation of multiple, stable, and controllable entangled qubit states.


In a paper, published in the journal Science, the research team outlines how it created entangled photon states with unprecedented complexity and over many parallel channels simultaneously on an integrated chip. The researchers were led by Professor David Moss, of Swinburne University of Technology, and Professor Roberto Morandotti from the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique (INRS-EMT) in Montreal, Canada.


Breakthrough opens possibility of incorporating quantum devices directly into laptops and cell phones. “By achieving this on a chip that was fabricated with processes compatible with the computer chip industry we have opened the door to the possibility of bringing powerful optical quantum computers for everyday use closer than ever before,” Professor Morandotti says.


The research team has demonstrated that on-chip quantum frequency combs can be used to simultaneously generate multiphoton entangled quantum bit states.  “This represents an unprecedented level of sophistication in generating entangled photons on a chip,” Professor Moss says. “Not only can we generate entangled photon pairs over hundreds of channels simultaneously, but for the first time we’ve succeeded in generating four-photon entangled states on a chip.” Until now, integrated systems developed by other research teams had only succeeded in generating individual two-photon entangled states on a chip.


Conventional Optical frequency combs are light sources that use mode-locked laser to create a large number of very evenly spaced frequencies. These tools can be used to make very precise measurements of different colors and are used in several applications (e.g., in atomic clocks and coherent communications).


These systems, however, are based on mode-locked lasers that generally have high complexity and large volumes. Microresonator-based Kerr frequency comb (microcomb) generation is thus an emerging technique. In this approach, high-quality-factor microresonators are used to convert a single frequency pump to a broadband comb.  Microcombs offer the potential of chip-level integration and low power consumption. According to the researchers, the chip developed by his team was designed to meet numerous criteria for use in practical systems: the chip is scalable, compact, uses standard telecommunication frequencies and compatible with existing technologies.


Developing a Million-qubit Quantum Computer

Towards innovating quantum computing, Palo Alto’s PsiQuantum is a four-year-old photonic quantum computing company that has raised millions through funding and has recently reached manufacturing milestones with GlobalFoundries.

The CEO, Jeremy O’Brien states that their goal is to create a commercial quantum computing system containing a minimum of one million qubits suggesting that his company would build it within a handful of years.

Terry Rudolph, the co-founder, and grandson of Erwin Schrödinger, add that their technology is important because, in contrast with other particles, their photons do not decohere and do not interact with each other eliminating many timing and crosstalk errors present in other designs. He explains that their fault-tolerant architecture is not an added-on feature but an intrinsic part of its design.

PsiQuantum’s qubits are encoded using single photons traveling along silicon photonic waveguides and are entangled using networks of optical components on a semiconductor photonic chip-based system. According to Rudolph, semiconductor fabs such as PsiQuamtum’s supplier, GlobalFoundries, already produce chips with billions of transistors for phones and computers and should be able to handle chips with millions of qubits as well.


Programmable linear optical circuit realized on a chip

A group of physicists in the UK has made a programmable photonic circuit that can be used to carry out any kind of linear optics operation and demonstrated its versatility via a series of experiments using single photons.  Anthony Laing of the University of Bristol had realized that by building a device capable of reproducing any unitary operator ( matrix of complex numbers), it would be possible with that single device to carry out any linear optics experiment on the same number of input and output ports. Now Scientists and researchers at the University of Bristol and Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) in Japan have developed that device, a multifunctional photonic circuit.


The chip incorporates six wave-guides for universal linear optic transformations and 15 integrated interferometers (devices that superimpose one photon beam over another to look for anomalies in intensity or phase), each of which is individually programmable. As a result, a range of different quantum processor operations can be performed at one time.


The researchers succeeded in developing the optical device integrated on a photonic chip using planar lightwave circuit (PLC) technology. The arrangement of the optical waveguide network in the device can be modified in seconds by configuring electric voltages applied to thin-film heaters arranged across the chip. The researchers further successfully demonstrated the versatility of the device by performing various photonic QIP experiments with single photons. The demonstrations range from implementations of key components for quantum computation (entanglement generations and quantum gate operations) to the performance of state-of-the-art quantum tasks.


Laboratory for Quantum, Nonlinear and Mechanical Photonics, University of Rochester are also exploring and developing chip-scale approaches that are capable of generating, processing, storing, and detecting versatile photonic quantum states on a single chip, aiming for broad applications in computing, communication, and sensing, by taking advantage of the intriguing quantum mechanical principles.


Silicon Chip  Engineered for Quantum Information Processing reported in 2018

An international team led by the University of Bristol has demonstrated the ability to control two qubits of information within a single silicon chip. This programmable two-qubit quantum processor could be used as a tool to perform quantum information experiments and could facilitate the use of silicon photonics for future photonic quantum processors.


To encode the qubits, the researchers used large-scale silicon photonic circuits to guide photons along waveguides. The quantum processor was fabricated with CMOS-compatible processing and comprises more than 200 photonic components. The researchers programmed the device to implement 98 different two-qubit unitary operations, a two-qubit quantum approximate optimization algorithm, and efficient simulation of Szegedy-directed quantum walks. “What we’ve demonstrated is a programmable machine that can do lots of different tasks,” said researcher Xiaogang Qiang.


The chip consists of many interferometers, which split the photons into different spatial modes. Each mode passes through a specific waveguide, so having a photon in one waveguide represents a 1, while in another it represents a 0. Knowing which path one photon is following tells you which path its entangled partner is on. The photons are encoded using thermo-optical phase shifters, which are controlled by electrical voltages. “Different settings of the phase shifters control the photon’s transmission behaviors in the interferometers, enabling different qubit-state encoding and different quantum operations,” Xiaogang says.


“It’s a very primitive processor, because it only works on two qubits, which means there is still a long way before we can do useful computations with this technology,” said Qiang. “But what is exciting is that the different properties of silicon photonics that can be used for making a quantum computer have been combined together in one device. This is just too complicated to physically implement with light using previous approaches.”


The team believes that its small device built from silicon could be scaled up in a cost-effective way, and emphasizes the importance of building quantum computers from technology that will allow precision on a very large scale. It sees integrated photonics as an alternative to bulky optical elements that could be too large and unstable to be used for the large, complex circuits that will be needed to build quantum computers.


“We need to be looking at how to make quantum computers out of technology that is scalable,” said researcher Jonathan Matthews. “We think silicon is a promising material to do this, partly because of all the investment that has already gone into developing silicon for the microelectronics and photonics industries.”


The small quantum processor has become a tool for further research, said the team, who has used the device to implement several different quantum information experiments using almost 100,000 different reprogrammed settings. “Since there’s been so much research and investment in silicon chips, this innovation might be found in the laptops and smartphones of the future,” said University of Queensland professor Timothy Ralph. “This is just the beginning; we’re just starting to see what kind of exponential change this might lead to.”


New Dutch silicon nitride photonics company, QuiX, aims at quantum computing

Dutch scientists from the University of Twente and the research institute AMOLF (Amsterdam) have teamed up to create the first quantum photonic processor based on silicon nitride waveguides. Supported by pre-seed investor RAPH2INVEST, Ad Lagendijk, Willem Vos, Klaus Boller, Pepijn Pinkse, and Jelmer Renema have launched QuiX with the aim to create the a road to quantum computing that builds on their fundamental research.


For quantum computers, the main advantage of photonics over other quantum computing technologies is that processors operate at room temperature, whereas most other quantum computing platforms function just above 0 K, thereby requiring costly liquid-helium cryogenics.


QuiX B.V. aims to introduce the first single-purpose photonic quantum computer on the market for use in machine learning and quantum simulation applications. The technology is based on research that has, for example, resulted in a silicon nitride waveguide based reconfigurable 8×8 integrated linear optical network for quantum information processing. In two years, QuiX will make the first components of this computer available, in the form of a photonic processor with specifications aimed at far beyond the current state-of-the-art. Such a device could be of strong interest to the academic and commercial quantum computing communities.


Jelmer Renema, the chief technical officer of QuiX, notes that the company’s photonic integrated-circuit technology is based on the TripleX technology of integrated-optics giant LioniX International (Enschede, Netherlands). “Their ultralow-loss waveguide technology enables us to produce sufficiently large matrices to facilitate complex calculations and thereby outperform classical computers,” says Renema.


Even with research towards a quantum computer, there still needs to be a focus on one of the biggest challenges of any electronic device: temperature.

Interestingly, Xanadu’s technology is that most of its hardware operates at room temperature, excluding photon-counting detectors responsible for reading the quantum states of entangled photons.

Canadian startup Xanadu developed cloud-accessible, Python programmable quantum computer

Scientists from the Ontario, Canada-based quantum computing firm Xanadu and the US National Institute of Standards and Technology have taken a big step towards that future by building a light-based chip that can be programmed through cloud access.

“For a long time, photonics was considered an underdog in the quantum computing race,” says study co-author Zachary Vernon, head of hardware at Xanadu. “With these results, alongside the growing intensity of progress from academic groups and other photonic quantum computing companies, it’s becoming clear that photonics is not an underdog, but in fact one of the leading contenders.”


The new 4 millimeter by 10 millimeter X8 chip is effectively an 8-qubit quantum computer. The scientists say the silicon nitride chip is compatible with conventional semiconductor industry fabrication techniques, and can readily scale to hundreds of qubits. Infrared laser pulses fired into the chip are coupled together with microscopic resonators to generate so-called “squeezed states” consisting of superpositions of multiple photons. The light next flows to a series of beam splitters and phase shifters that perform the desired computation. The photons then flow out the chip to superconducting detectors that count the photon numbers to extract the answer to the quantum computation.


Xanadu has made the chip available over the cloud. Remote users with no knowledge of how the hardware works can still program the device using Strawberry Fields, Xanadu’s Python library for simulating and executing programs on photonic quantum hardware, and PennyLane, the company’s Python library for quantum machine learning, quantum computing and quantum chemistry.


“Quantum hardware and algorithm development have barely scratched the surface of what’s possible,” Vernon notes. “The more people working on something, the better. In order to reap the full potential of quantum computing, as many people as possible should be working on application development. If someone develops a great app with Company A’s hardware, that app will in all likelihood be equally deployable on Company B’s hardware. So it matters less where an app is developed and tested. The important part is that the app was developed in the first place.”


The researchers executed three different quantum algorithms on their fully reprogrammable chip. One, Gaussian boson sampling, analyzes random patches of data, and has many practical applications, such as identifying which pairs of molecules are the best fits for each other. Another, molecular vibronic spectra, calculates the energy of shifts between different states of a molecule, and has use in quantum chemistry. The last, graph similarity, looks for similar traits between different sets of data, and has use in data science, Vernon says.


Xanadu notes a current limitation of its systems are the superconducting photon detectors they use, which require ultra-cold temperatures. However, the company notes that future detectors may not require superconductivity or cryogenic temperatures, and that the entire machine is otherwise contained in a standard server rack.


The scientists note the greatest challenge they face in scaling up their quantum computer is reducing the amount of lost photons zipping around inside the computer’s circuitry. They suggest their quantum machines could achieve acceptably low losses using integrated beam splitters and phase shifters built using more precise, commercially-available chip fabrication tools. Xanadu now aims to make their quantum computer more useful for practical applications through error correction strategies to make them more tolerant of noise, defects and other problems, Vernon says.


The scientists detailed their findings in the March 4 issue of the journal Nature.


Xanadu Photonic Quantum Chip Solves Trillions of Times Faster

Canadian quantum computer company, Xanadu, has used its photonic quantum computer chip, Borealis, to solve a problem in 36 microseconds versus classical supercomputers taking 9000 years. This is 7884 trillion times faster. This runtime advantage is more than 50 million times larger than that of earlier photonic demonstrations.


An earlier quantum photonic computer used a static chip. The Borealis optical elements can all be readily programmed. Borealis is accessible to anyone with an internet connection over Xanadu Cloud, and will also be available via Amazon Braket, the fully managed quantum computing service from AWS.

“With Borealis on Amazon Braket, for the first time, any researcher or developer will be able to validate a claim of quantum advantage and evaluate how photonic quantum computing may eventually expand their choice of compute technologies, enabling them to innovate more quickly,” said Richard Moulds, General Manager of Amazon Braket at AWS.


NVIDIA cuQuantum is a software development kit that consists of optimized libraries and tools designed to accelerate quantum computing workflows. NVIDIA GPU devices, coupled with cuQuantum, offer best-in-class performance for simulating quantum systems. Users can apply cuQuantum to accelerate standard quantum circuit simulations, as well as develop and test algorithms that may otherwise be intractable with standard tooling.

Xanadu solved a problem called Gaussian boson sampling. This is a benchmark for evaluating quantum computing prowess. The test, while extraordinarily difficult computationally, doesn’t have much impact on real-world problems. However, like chess or Go for measuring AI performance, it acts as an unbiased judge to examine quantum computing performance.

They used a photonic quantum device with 216 qubits. Xanadu’s architecture is modular and capable of scaling to one million qubits through optical networking. They are developing a manufacturable, fault-tolerant module consisting of four components that work together to generate, entangle, and process thousands of qubits.

They have a published blueprint for fault tolerant quantum computers.


Key Features of Xanadu Borealis
Cloud accessible with quantum-computational-advantage-level performance.
A quantum light source, with adjustable brightness, emits trains of up to 288 squeezed-state qubits.
Contains a fully programmable loop-based interferometer, synthesizing a large entangled state suitable for Gaussian Boson Sampling.
Reprogrammable⁠ — dynamically program the gate parameters according to your own task.
High-speed processing and readout by true photon-number-resolving detectors.

Free Tier
Access for everyone. Sign up for your Xanadu Cloud Free Tier account and get access to Xanadu’s hardware, software, educational resources — including US$1000 of computing credits for starter workloads.

5 million shots on Borealis quantum hardware for free.
10 million shots on X-Series quantum hardware for free.
Unlimited access to educational resources and tutorials.
Community forum support.



Technical University Of Denmark: Optical Chip Protects Quantum Technology From Errors, reported in Sep 2021

Researchers from DTU Fotonik have co-created the largest and most complex photonic quantum information processor to date – on a microchip. It uses single particles of light as its quantum bits, and demonstrates a variety of error-correction protocols with photonic quantum bits for the first time.


“We made a new optical microchip that processes quantum information in such a way that it can protect itself from errors using entanglement. We used a novel design to implement error correction schemes, and verified that they work effectively on our photonic platform,” says Jeremy Adcock, postdoc at DTU Fotonik and co-author of the Nature Physics paper.


“Error correction is key to developing large-scale quantum computers” Jeremy Adcock, postdoc at DTU Fotonik
“Chip-scale devices are an important step forward if quantum technology is going to be scaled up to show an advantage over classical computers. These systems will require millions of high-performance components operating at the fastest possible speeds, something that is only achieved with microchips and integrated circuits, which are made possible by the ultra-advanced semiconductor manufacturing industry,” says co-author Yunhong Ding, senior researcher at DTU Fotonik.

To realize quantum technology that goes beyond today’s powerful computers requires scaling this technology further. In particular, the photon (particles of light) sources on this chip are not efficient enough to build quantum technology of useful scale.


“At DTU, we are now working on increasing the efficiency of these sources – which currently have an efficiency of just 1 per cent – to near-unity. With such a source, it should be possible to build quantum photonic devices of vastly increased scale, and reap the benefits of quantum technology’s native physical advantage over classical computers in processing, communicating, and acquiring information, says postdoc at DTU Fotonik, Jeremy Adcock. He continues: “With more efficient photon sources, we will be able to build more and different resource states, which will enable larger and more complex computations, as well as unlimited range secure quantum communications.”


Largest quantum photonic processor, reported in June 2022

In their search for a way to demonstrate quantum supremacy, researchers working in the EU-funded PHOQUSING project are developing a hybrid computational system based on cutting-edge integrated photonics that combines classical and quantum processes. PHOQUSING project partner QuiX Quantum in the Netherlands has created the largest quantum photonic processor compatible with quantum dots (nanometer-sized semiconductor crystals that emit light of various colors when illuminated by ultraviolet light). The processor is the central component of the quantum sampling machine, a near-term quantum computing device able to show a quantum advantage.


“Quantum sampling machines based on light are believed to be very promising for showing a quantum advantage,” reports a news item posted on the QuiX Quantum website. “The problem of drawing samples from a probability distribution, mathematically too complex for a classical computer, can be solved easily by letting light propagating [sic] through such quantum sampling machines. At the very core of quantum sampling machines there are large-scale linear optical interferometers, i.e. photonic processors.”


The processor the research team developed is a “record-size” 20-mode silicon nitride photonic chip that is optimized for use at the near-infrared wavelength range, operating at a wavelength of 925 nanometers. According to a webinar video presenting the processor, the 20 input modes with 190 unit cells and 380 tunable elements likely make this processor the most complex photonic chip available today. Besides the large number of modes, key features of the quantum photonic processor include low optical losses (of 2.9 decibels per mode) and high fidelity (99.5 % for permutation matrices and 97.4 % for Haar-random matrices). The turnkey processor also enables high-visibility quantum interference (98 %).


Prof. Fabio Sciarrino says, “The established high-performance photonic technology provided by QuiX Quantum is crucial for the success of the project as it addresses the need of science-to-technology transition needed for developing useful quantum computation.” The project brings together seven partners from France, Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal: five academic and research organizations and two industrial players, all European leaders in the field of quantum information processing and integrated photonics.



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