Russia unveils its most powerful quantum computer till date

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Russia, earlier this month, unveiled its most powerful quantum computer designed till date which has been developed by a team of scientists working under the coordination of the Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom.  

A 16-qubit ion-based quantum computer, developed by a team of scientists from the Russian Quantum Centre and the Lebedev Physics Institute (LPI) of the Russian Academy of Sciences, was displayed at an exhibition organised by Rosatom and the Russian Railways on the sidelines of the Future Technologies Forum held in Moscow during July 9-14, 2023.  

The device has been developed as part of the government framework for quantum computing, the implementation of which is being coordinated by Rosatom.  

Quantum theory is about nature at its smallest scale and energy levels and describes the behaviour of subatomic particles like electrons, protons, neutrons and photons.  

In silicon chips of classical computers, the unit of data is rendered in one of two states — 0 or 1 pertaining to the true/false or yes/no state. However, in quantum theory, data could simultaneously exist in both states, holding exponentially more information. The unit, or “bit” in regular computing, becomes “qubit” in quantum theory, which can be either 0 or 1, or in superposition of them both at the same time.  

This means that where a normal computer makes calculations sequentially, one at a time, a quantum computer would be able to process information simultaneously, thus making it much more powerful. The computing power of a quantum computer grows exponentially with the number of quantum bits that can be manipulated. 

According to Rosatom, scientists have already run useful, molecule-simulating computations on the 16-qubit quantum computer.  They have launched an algorithm for calculating a simple molecule and demonstrated it running in real time.  “With the help of a cloud platform, an algorithm for calculating a simple molecule was launched on it (the 16-bit computer),” a Rosatom statement said.  

“Our quantum computer, which is important, is already doing useful things – modeling molecules, and not doing scientific abstraction,” Ilya Semerikov, a researcher at the LPI Laboratory of Optics of Complex Quantum Systems, said at the plenary session of the Future Technologies Forum.  

Semerikov said the development began in 2015 with the creation of traps and attempts to keep ions in them. Thereafter, they made a super-accurate quantum clock for the Russian satellite navigation system GLONASS, and then went on directly to the government’s quantum computing roadmap. The team’s dream is to create a quantum processor that solves problems faster than a supercomputer and will be useful to a wide range of people. According to him, the LPI has several ideas, but it will take at least 10 years to implement them. 

Professor Alexey Kavokin, Chair of Nanophysics and Photonics at the University of Southampton in the UK, told this correspondent earlier that “while the manipulation of multi-particle entanglement is at the core of quantum computing, the physical implementation of qubits is difficult simply because quantum phenomena are hard to observe in everyday life.”.   

Building a quantum computer requires a physical qubit that is well isolated from the environment, Kavokin said, adding that stabilising it in a physical platform is the key.   

“There is a hardware problem to be resolved before the world can realise quantum computing on an industrial scale,” he said.   

Owing to the enormous potential of quantum computers, companies like Google, Microsoft and IBM have invested massively in quantum computing research.  

Google has unveiled a Quantum Computer with just 54 qubits, which was able to carry out an experimental calculation in 200 seconds that would have taken the world’s most powerful supercomputer around 10,000 years to compute. IBM’s Eagle quantum computer, at a scale of 100+ qubits, was recently reported to have beaten a supercomputer in solving complex mathematical calculations. 

However, despite substantial progress in the past two decades, building quantum machines that can outperform classical computers — an important milestone termed “quantum supremacy” — remains challenging. 

Although quantum computing is still very in its infancy, it is hoped that eventually the technology will speed up many computationally demanding workloads – including drug discovery, material sciences, traffic congestion, supply chain, weather forecasting, and quantum cryptography. 

“We have built a roadmap in a unique way – not as a management mechanism, but as a mechanism for interaction, mutual support and, I’m not afraid of this word, trust,” Rosatom Director General Alexey Likhachev said.  

He sees Rosatom’s tasks as being the inclusion of emerging quantum technologies, “which do not yet know how to walk or speak,” in the nuclear industry and their speedy industrialization, as well as assistance to scientists with a component base and equipment. Likhachev believes that at the current stage of development of the quantum industry, Russia can already offer cooperation on an equal footing to scientists from other countries. 

At the plenary session of the Future Technologies Forum, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the fundamental task is to transfer the entire Russian economy, social sphere and authorities to qualitatively new principles of work – based on big data.  

Russia’s President proposed the preparation, within a year, of a new national project on the formation of a data economy for the period up to 2030. The national project should cover research, training, creation of conditions for the production and testing of samples, organization of demand, flexible regulation and support of production, as well as technologies for collecting, transmitting, storing, ensuring data security, national standards and algorithms for storing and processing information, and creating a code repository.  

Within the framework of the national project, measures to support fundamental research would be expanded, including increased funding for a wide range of technologies, many of which work on the principles of quantum physics and mechanics, the President said. The mega-grant program for researchers will also be renewed and expanded. 

At the exhibition, President Putin also witnessed some practical applications of quantum communications when the Centre for Managing and Monitoring the Russian Railways Quantum Network was connected via videoconference. There was also a communications session with users in Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod via the interuniversity quantum network.