With the prototype chip, the researchers were evaluating the performance of the diffraction gratings and the ion traps.
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Ram and Karan Mehta, an MIT graduate student in electrical engineering and first author on the new paper, designed and built a suite of on-chip optical components that can channel laser light toward individual ions. Sage, Chiaverini, and their Lincoln Lab colleagues Colin Bruzewicz and Robert McConnell retooled their surface trap to accommodate the integrated optics without compromising its performance. Together, both groups designed and executed the experiments to test the new system.
“Typically, for surface electrode traps, the laser beam is coming from an optical table and entering this system, so there’s always this concern about the beam vibrating or moving,” Ram says. “With photonic integration, you’re not concerned about beam-pointing stability, because it’s all on the same chip that the electrodes are on. So now everything is registered against each other, and it’s stable.”
The researchers’ new chip is built on a quartz substrate. On top of the quartz is a network of silicon nitride “waveguides,” which route laser light across the chip. Above the waveguides is a layer of glass, and on top of that are the niobium electrodes. Beneath the holes in the electrodes, the waveguides break into a series of sequential ridges, a diffraction grating precisely engineered to direct light up through the holes and concentrate it into a beam narrow enough that it will target a single ion, 50 microns above the surface of the chip.
With the prototype chip, the researchers were evaluating the performance of the diffraction gratings and the ion traps, but there was no mechanism for varying the amount of light delivered to each ion. In ongoing work, the researchers are investigating the addition of light modulators to the diffraction gratings, so that different qubits can simultaneously receive light of different, time-varying intensities. That would make programming the qubits more efficient, which is vital in a practical quantum information system, since the number of quantum operations the system can perform is limited by the “coherence time” of the qubits.
“As far as I know, this is the first serious attempt to integrate optical waveguides in the same chip as an ion trap, which is a very significant step forward on the path to scaling up ion-trap quantum information processors [QIP] to the sort of size which will ultimately contain the number of qubits necessary for doing useful QIP,” says David Lucas, a professor of physics at Oxford University. “Trapped-ion qubits are well-known for being able to achieve record-breaking coherence times and very precise operations on small numbers of qubits. Arguably, the most important area in which progress needs to be made is technologies which will enable the systems to be scaled up to larger numbers of qubits. This is exactly the need being addressed so impressively by this research.”
“Of course, it's important to appreciate that this is a first demonstration,” Lucas adds. “But there are good prospects for believing that the technology can be improved substantially. As a first step, it's a wonderful piece of work.”