Researchers Discover Breakthrough Material That Could Enable Powerful Next-Gen Quantum Computers

Researchers from Oregon State University (OSU) have announced that they have created a new material that is a key step in creating the next generation of supercomputers. These next-generation quantum computers will be far faster than current supercomputers while consuming much less energy. The scientists on the project work in the OSU College of Science and the compound they have developed is an inorganic material that adopts a crystal structure.

quantum spin liquid

The material is capable of sustaining a new state of matter that is known as quantum spin liquid. That new compound is lithium osmium oxide and it has osmium atoms that form a honeycomb-like lattice, and can enforce a phenomenon called "magnetic frustration." Researchers believe the material could lead to the quantum spin liquid predicted by condensed matter physics theorists.

The science of the new material is complex, but one of the study authors, Mas Subramanian, the Milton Harris Professor of Materials Science at OSU, has tried to explain it in terms that are easier to understand. He says that in a permanent magnet, such as a compass needle, the electrons spin in an aligned manner meaning they all rotate in the same direction.

"But in a frustrated magnet, the atomic arrangement is such that the electron spins cannot achieve an ordered alignment and instead are in a constantly fluctuating state, analogous to how ions would appear in a liquid," Subramanian explains.

The lithium osmium oxide that OSU researchers have discovered shows no evidence of magnetic order even if it is frozen to near absolute zero. That property hints that an underlying quantum spin liquid state is possible for the new compound. This would allow the subatomic particles to exist in more than one state at any time.

"We are excited about this new development as it widens the search area for new quantum spin liquid materials that could revolutionize the way we process and store data," Subramanian said. "The quantum spin liquid phenomenon has so far been detected in very few inorganic materials, some containing iridium. Osmium is right next to iridium in the periodic table and has all the right characteristics to form compounds that can sustain the quantum spin liquid state."

For a quantum computer to work, the subatomic particles must exist in more than one state at a time. This is why the newly discovered material could be so important in quantum computing. Researchers say that their next step is to explore the chemistry needed to use osmium to create other perfectly-ordered crystal structures. Quantum computing is out of the theoretical stage already, IBM is currently working on quantum computing and was testing a 50 qubits quantum computer late in 2017.