A processor that is using the special quantum properties of light for carrying out complex calculations: the new University of Twente spinoff company QuiX is currently developing a photonic chip for that. The new chip, of which a first version is already operational, calculates using light, photons, and will be an attractive platform for discovering the potential of quantum computing and for experimenting with new ways of calculating. Further development of the photonics processor will be made possible through an investment by Oost NL, University of Twente and some informal investors.
The power of quantum computers has been the great promise of the past decades. Compared to current computer systems, quantum computers don’t work with ‘ones’ and ‘zeroes’ exclusively. Using the interference of quantum states, the number of possible states is much higher. This may result in strong computers capable of dealing with huge problems that can be solved in a parallel way. Like finding out the full functionality of a molecule, finding the best key for information protection or discovering a medicine that is highly personalized. The expectations may be high, but the possibilities of experimenting with both new hardware and necessary software are still in their infancy.
QuiX aims at changing this by using the quantum properties of photons. Most of today’s quantum computers use ‘qubits’ as information carriers, based on quantum properties of electrons. Qubits, however, only operate at temperatures close to zero Kelvin (minus 273 degrees Celsius). By using light instead, quantum effects are demonstrated at room temperature. The photonic chip, for which UT scientists Pepijn Pinkse, Ad Lagendijk, Willem Vos, Klaus Boller and Jelmer Renema founded the company QuiX, is not aiming at the consumer market but at scientists and industrial R&D, for discovering the potential and developing new applications. By this joint effort, the founders hope to accelerate the promising technology.
The new company can benefit from a head start. Jelmer Renema, UT scientist and Quix’ current Chief Technology Officer, and his colleages Caterina Taballione and Tom Wolterink, coincidentally discovered that an existing photonic chip could be used for quantum applications as well. The chip has eight inputs and eight outputs, it conducts light through a number of channels and components like splitters. The route a photon takes, can be altered externally by switching channels, just like in railroads. The actual calculation is done by photons that interfere and interact, for example by ‘quantum entanglement’. The current chip is already one of the largest available in the world, but for serious calculations, 16 inputs and 16 outputs are needed, or even 50 by 50. That means that losses have to be controlled along the way, avoiding photons to be extinguished before they even reach the exit. The waveguides developed in Twente, by LioniX and UT’s MESA+ NanoLab, are known for their very low losses.
Oost NL, the East Netherlands Development Agency, now invests in QuiX, as well as the University of Twente through Holding Technopolis. Earlier on, RAPH2INVEST invested in the early phase. “The impact quantum computing may have on society, is huge, for solving complicated problems, The tools QuiX is now developing, form a good starting point”, says Marius Prins, the director of Oost NL. “Through this investment, we strengthen the position that The Netherlands, and the Twente region in particular, has in the field of photonics, one of today’s key enabling technologies. Innovations may reach markets earlier, thus offering major opportunities for employment in the East of The Netherlands”
The investment strengthens the photonics ecosystem in Twente. The University of Twente has about 100 researchers working in this field, and the region has strong players like LioniX International and PhoeniX (now part of Synopsys(. One of the latest developments is PHiX Photonics Assembly, focusing on the automation of assembling photonic chips – this company also got Oost NL support. PHiX, in turn, is closely collaborating with the Fraunhofer Project Center based on the UT campus. The new investment in QuiX fits in with the PhotonDelta initiative, that announced a 236 million investment in photonics on a national scale last December.