Menno Veldhorst has invented a faster path to real-world quantum circuits by making it possible for them to be printed on silicon—the way computer chips have been made for decades.
Quantum computers would allow powerful calculations that no traditional computer is capable of, but before Veldhorst’s innovation, it was considered impossible to make semiconductor-based quantum circuits on silicon that would be stable enough for useful computation. These machines—which are governed by the strange physics of subatomic particles—have instead been built with esoteric materials, including superconductors, that are easier to control in their fragile quantum states. The trade-offs: working with such technology is expensive, and producing such circuitry at scale would require entirely new industrial processes.
Veldhorst, a researcher at Delft University in the Netherlands, has found a way forward with the most replicated manmade structure on the planet—the transistor. He was able to demonstrate calculations on the basic units of quantum information, known as qubits, in silicon semiconductors.
Now, thanks to Veldhorst’s breakthrough, Intel is printing hundreds of thousands of such simple systems on the same type of 300-millimeter wafers the company uses to make its conventional chips. This means collaborators at Intel can increasingly spend their time on the microelectronics and algorithms necessary for complete quantum computers rather than working through the basic physics.
What’s most exciting to Veldhorst is that—just as with the transistor and the computer itself—a flood of quantum computers will need to be built just to figure out what they are capable of. His research has allowed just that.