University of Pittsburgh
June 13, 2001

DARPA Funds $5.8 Million Pitt Quantum Computing Center

Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH, June 13 -- Using today's fastest computers, calculating the prime numbers of a 400-digit number would take longer than the age of the universe—using quantum computers, in theory, the calculation would take less than a second.

That promise of ultra-fast computing is why the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has funded a new University of Pittsburgh research center to develop the core technologies necessary to create quantum computers.

The five year, $5.8 million effort will fund the Center for Oxide-Semiconductor Materials for Quantum Computation, which will develop the core technology required for quantum computers—the quantum mechanical equivalents of the transistors and bits.

"Quantum computers are not simply faster computers," said Jeremy Levy, assistant professor of physics and astronomy, who will direct the center. "They exploit the fundamental laws of quantum mechanics to enable staggering speedups of certain kinds of calculations."

The daunting task of factoring numbers into primes forms the basis of the encryption schemes used on the Internet. Quantum computers, if they can be built, are powerful enough to crack the codes that protect the security of individuals, corporations, and government agencies on the Internet.

"Quantum computers are the 'atom bomb' of information technology, " said Levy. "If this technology is feasible, the entire infrastructure for secure communication will have to be overhauled."

One way of thinking about how quantum computers work is that they are capable of massively parallel calculations. A classical bit can take on only two values, "0" and "1". By contrast, a quantum bit can be in a superposition of both "0" and "1". One hundred quantum bits can be in a superposition of 1030 distinct states.

The Center is a multi-institutional, international effort involving five universities and three national laboratories, with a principal goal of producing a working quantum bit (qubit) and gate (qugate).

The spin direction of a single electron will serve as the qubit. The electrons will reside in a structure of semiconducting silicon and an oxide-based ferroelectric material. The ferroelectric material will act as a template for the electrons in the silicon, confining them to nanometer-scale regions and allowing their quantum mechanical interactions to be controlled precisely.

"Silicon is an ideal host for electron spins because it has a minimal effect on the electron spin direction," said Levy.

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