DARPA Aims to Develop New Synthetic Quantum Materials That Could Radically Improve Quantum Computing

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has announced a new program it says will develop synthetic metamaterials that could lead to breakthroughs in quantum computing and information science.

Called the Synthetic Quantum Nanostructures program, or SynQuaNon, the new DARPA initiative “aims to address this challenge with a fundamental science effort that seeks to develop synthetic metamaterials to enable enhanced functionalities and novel capabilities,” read a statement issued by the agency this week.

The program aims to produce a range of new quantum materials that will have a variety of uses in quantum computing and other information science applications.

At the core of the new DARPA program will be the development of quantum heterostructures, nano-patterned structures and metamaterials that will boost the temperatures of electronic components while cutting down on size and requirements for powering them.

One of the issues that quantum information science currently faces involves a reliance on superconducting components that allow information to be processed at the optimal precision required for quantum computing. However, in its current state of development, this requires components capable of operating after being cooled to temperatures approaching absolute zero.

Achieving this is both costly and requires space for housing large refrigerators that consume significant amounts of power, which imposes limits on the scalability of quantum computing and sensing technologies and contributes to their current fragile nature.

Dr. Mukund Vengalattore, program manager in DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office, says that a necessary first step will require the creation of new superconducting devices with operating temperatures increased by as much as a factor of ten. This, in turn, would significantly reduce the space and power requirements for the refrigeration units that are currently necessary for cooling superconducting components.

Vengalattore says the program will aim to demonstrate a material that will have a wide variety of applications and can be easily adapted for multiple uses.

He also cites the creation of synthetic materials capable of enhancing specific properties of a material (such as superconducting temperature), the incorporation of such materials into superconducting devices to improve their performance, as well as new capabilities for quantum computing, as being among the program’s primary focus areas.

The result, if SynQuaNon succeeds, could be a greater level of stability for superconducting qubits that would help facilitate scalability for quantum computers at larger sizes.

DARPA also hopes that its successful production of nanomaterials may help to provide innovative new photon detectors. In quantum computing, information stored within a single photon requires the use of special photon detectors. With SynQuaNon, the demonstration of photon detectors capable of operating faster and at higher temperatures would allow the single-photon detection required in such quantum computing applications.

Such devices also have a range of other scientific applications that are useful in technology and defense, particularly when it comes to the detection of objects that produce minimal amounts of light. Another possible use for such technologies includes the amplification of radio frequencies using smaller and more inexpensive devices that produce less noise but which would be capable of operating at greater temperatures.

“The goal is to produce a material that is device friendly,” Vengalattore said in a statement released by the agency this week, “[and] that can be plugged directly into all sorts of applications.”

Micah Hanks is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of The Debrief. He can be reached by email at micah@thedebrief.org. Follow his work at micahhanks.com and on Twitter: @MicahHanks.