Inside UNSW's quantum computing laboratory

CQC2T is leading a global race to build a silicon-based quantum computer

  • In an unremarkable looking building on UNSW’s Sydney campus something incredible is taking place. Within its walls, researchers are in a race to develop the world’s first quantum computer. It is a place of extremes: Temperatures as cold as space, vacuums of immense pressure and results that can be measured by the atom. Take a look inside the labs of CQC2T - the Centre for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology. The research has drawn interest — and investment — from the Commonwealth Bank and Telstra.

    Words: George Nott. Images: Joshua Lundberg.

    Pictured: UNSW Scientia Professor Michelle Simmons, director of CQC2T

  • The Atomic Fabrication Facility was established in 2001 to develop atomically precise devices in silicon.

  • This Variable Temperature Scanning Tunneling Microscope is used to image the silicon surface and perform atomic-scale lithography. First, a silicon shard is coated in hydrogen atoms.

  • In this chamber, the tip of the microscope provides a pulse which knocks off six hydrogen atoms from the silicon shard.

  • The six atom hole is filled in with phosphorus atoms. The resulting extra electron of the phosphorus forms the foundation of the quantum bit, or qubit.

  • Professor Michelle Simmons and a researcher inspect the chamber.

  • SImmons heads a team of more than 180 researchers across six Australian universities.

  • Behind the scenes at the Atomic Fabrication Facility

  • This room is part of the centre's Nanofabrication Facility. Here researchers don suits and masks and piece together the components of quantum chips at the atomic scale.

  • The Cryogenic Measurement Laboratories houses sophisticated experimental facilities for measuring nanoscale devices.

  • Once chips have been made, they are super-cooled to absolute zero.

  • To measure the spin of the electron on the qubit, the chip is placed in a superconducting magnet.

  • With the magnet, the state of the electron on the phosphorus atom in the silicon qubit can be detected and controlled.

  • A researcher in the Cryogenic Measurement Laboratories

  • These machines measure the spin of the electron on the qubit.

  • Researchers with Prof Michelle Simmons.

  • In another part of the lab, a Scanning Tunneling Microscope is wrapped in tin foil. It will then be boxed up and 'baked' over a period of a week to remove impurities.

  • The lab is installing additional microscopes to increase its qubit output.

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