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Spotlight: Silicon-28 in Quantum Computers

Design in dark and light blue with a circular pattern surrounded by a square.
Credit: A. Ramanayaka

Silicon, found everywhere from the brick in your fireplace to the sand between your toes at the beach, also forms the basis of microchips in conventional computers. But the silicon found in nature won't work with some of the most promising designs for futuristic quantum-computing devices.

Why not? Quantum computing depends on the delicate properties of atoms and other things at tiny scales. Even the slightest factors can disturb these properties and affect how long a quantum computer can process information before crashing. The silicon we all know and love contains 92% of the isotope silicon-28, which would be fine for quantum computing, but also includes about 5% of the isotope silicon-29, whose properties can disrupt those of silicon-28.

Now, new research from scientists at NIST and the Joint Quantum Institute put highly refined samples of silicon (with 99.99% of silicon-28) to the test. The team developed a microscopic device (shown here) to compare the highly refined samples with commercial silicon and test their quantum performance. That way, industry leaders can better evaluate whether a specific composition of silicon qualifies as “quantum grade” and can support the devices they hope to build.

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Released January 11, 2020, Updated December 23, 2020