Sandia shows quantum breakthrough promise with new ion trap

Sandia's 20 year experience in building and testing ion traps has culminated in its latest offering: the Enchilada Trap.
Amal Jos Chacko
uantum physicist and optical engineer Jonathan Sterk points to the section of an ion trap where trapped ion qubits travel. Inset, The Enchilada Trap
Quantum physicist and optical engineer Jonathan Sterk points to the section of an ion trap where trapped ion qubits travel. Inset, The Enchilada Trap

Sandia/ Craig Fritz 

Sandia National Laboratories revealed the Enchilada Trap, a groundbreaking ion trap central to some quantum computers, in a press release.

This innovative device promises to reshape the landscape of quantum computing, providing researchers with a potent tool to explore the experimental and transformative field of quantum computation.

By effectively housing electrically charged atoms, or ions, on a microchip, this trap facilitates the manipulation of quantum bits, or qubits, which serve as the fundamental units of quantum computation. 

A quantum computer equipped with a substantial number of qubits holds the potential to handle increasingly intricate algorithms, with the prospect of surpassing classical computers in addressing complex problems.

Duke University Joins Quantum Exploration Effort

Several traps will make their way to Duke University, Sandia’s research partner through the Quantum Systems Accelerator, for comprehensive analysis and rigorous testing. The Accelerator, funded by the DOE Office of Science, is one of five U.S. National Quantum Information Science Research Centers.

The Enchilada Trap is capable of storing and transporting up to 200 qubits. Inspired by its predecessor, the Roadrunner Trap, Sandia’s latest offering uses a network of five trapping zones.

Sandia shows quantum breakthrough promise with new ion trap
Electrical engineer Ray Haltli optimizes parameters before placing gold wire bonds on an ion trap.

Overcoming Challenges and Paving the Path Ahead

The creation of the Enchilada Trap by Sandia National Laboratories is a result of persistent research and development over two decades. 

The team navigated a series of design challenges to bring this quantum innovation to fruition. Central to the trap's design is its innovative architecture, enabling the manipulation and rearrangement of ions for intricate calculations.

The branching network of electrodes, reminiscent of a family tree or tournament bracket, forms the foundation of the Enchilada Trap's unique design. Each narrow branch acts as a storage and shuttle for the ions.

This innovation builds on a similar tiled design Sandia has employed in the past and tests the limits of scaling a smaller trap.

Daniel Stick, a scientist at Sandia, and a leading researcher within the Quantum Systems Accelerator, downplayed the trap's role in shaping the trajectory of quantum computing

He emphasized that while the current iteration might not surpass conventional computers in solving practical problems, it lays the groundwork for future advancements in quantum algorithms that hold promise in diverse fields such as physics, chemistry, data science, and materials science.

“We are providing the field of quantum computing room to grow and explore larger machines and more complicated programming,” he added.

A concern the team had was regarding the dissipation of electrical power on the trap. This was solved by designing new microscopic features capable of reducing the capacitance of specific electrodes, thereby producing less heat.

Zach Meinelt, the lead integrator on the Enchilada Trap project, encapsulated Sandia's commitment to progress, stating, "Our team continuously seeks innovation. We anticipate the evolving needs of future technology, designing traps that align with those requirements and relentlessly seeking opportunities for refinement."

The debut of the Enchilada Trap signifies a pivotal stride in quantum computing but also encapsulates the essence of innovation, collaboration, and dedication, propelling scientific exploration toward the forefront of technological horizons.

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