Colder than Outer Space

Colder than Outer Space

Forschungszentrum Jülich’s quantum computer labs open at RWTH Aachen University’s Campus Melaten

11 October 2023

Forschungszentrum Jülich celebrated the opening of its quantum computer laboratories on the Melaten campus of RWTH Aachen University on Tuesday, 10 October 2023. The experimental rooms are equipped with a variety of cooling devices to test and further develop quantum computer hardware with superconducting qubits and semiconductor qubits at ultra-low temperatures of 10 millikelvin – a temperature that is significantly colder than in outer space. The overarching goal is to create the technological and scientific basis for future quantum computers with tangible quantum advantages in the research laboratories of the Jülich Peter Grünberg Institute for Functional Quantum Systems (PGI-13) and the JARA Institute for Quantum Information (PGI-11).

“Quantum computers have the potential to transform various research fields and economic sectors. Advancements and innovations in this field offer immense opportunities, not only for research but also for the regional economy to unlock new value chains. Through the development of innovative components, quantum chips, and demonstrators in collaboration with national and European partners in these labs, we aim to make this technology viable for practical applications in science and industry,” explains Prof. Astrid Lambrecht, Chair of the Board of Directors of Forschungszentrum Jülich.

Detail of a cryostat in Forschungszentrum Jülich’s new quantum computer laboratory. Copyright: – Forschungszentrum Jülich / Sascha Kreklau

Laboratory environment for ultra-low temperatures

The research labs are designed to test quantum computer hardware with superconducting quantum bits (qubits for short) at every stage of development – from individual components to systems that could be the key to potential commercial applications. The underlying approach is one of the most technologically advanced: quantum states are created using electrical currents that flow without resistance in superconducting circuits. For the laws of quantum physics to operate undisturbed, they must be cooled down to 10 millikelvin using cryostats. This corresponds to a temperature of 0.01 degrees Celsius above absolute zero and is much colder than the temperatures in outer space.

Achieving such low temperatures involves considerable technical effort. Setting up the labs took more than 18 months, partly due to delivery difficulties. Over 10 cryostats of different sizes were installed during this time. “We are all the more pleased that we are finally up and running,” says Prof. Rami Barends, head of Jülich’s Peter Grünberg Institute for Functional Quantum Systems (PGI-13), who left Google’s quantum research team in 2021 to move to Forschungszentrum Jülich.

Prof. Astrid Lambrecht, Chair of the Board of Directors of Forschungszentrum Jülich, talking to scientists from the Peter Grünberg Institute. Copyright: - Forschungszentrum Jülich / Sascha Kreklau
Prof. Astrid Lambrecht, Chair of the Board of Directors of Forschungszentrum Jülich, talking to scientists from the Peter Grünberg Institute. Copyright: – Forschungszentrum Jülich / Sascha Kreklau

Research across the full spectrum

With the commissioning of the Aachen quantum computer labs, Forschungszentrum Jülich now has unique expertise and infrastructure that covers the entire development cycle, from the search for suitable quantum materials to the design of circuits and suitable cryo-electronics to the development of demonstrators and applications.

“First, there is an idea or a theoretical model. Forschungszentrum Jülich has long been one of the world’s leading institutions in this area. Then, a design emerges, for example for quantum chips or components, that can be produced at Forschungszentrum Jülich in the Helmholtz Nano Facility. With our labs, we now also have the experimental capabilities to comprehensively test these devices and thus close the research and development cycle. We can also execute increasingly complex algorithms by building larger systems,” explains Rami Barends.

Site of several major projects

The laboratories in Aachen are the site of several key quantum computer projects. QSolid demonstrators are tested and operated here. In the collaborative project, coordinated by Prof. Frank Wilhelm-Mauch from Forschungszentrum Jülich, 25 German companies and research institutions are working together to develop a complete quantum computer “made in Germany”. The labs are also part of the OpenSuperQPlus project. The European Quantum Flagship initiative brings together 28 European research partners from ten countries and is also coordinated by Prof. Frank Wilhelm-Mauch.

Research lab for semiconductor qubits

The young investigator group headed by Dr. Vincent Mourik is also based on the Melaten campus. The physicist, who has been working at Forschungszentrum Jülich’s JARA Institute for Quantum Information since the end of 2021, conducts research in his Solid State Quantum Devices Laboratory (SQUAD) right next to PGI-13. The focus is on a novel material platform for semiconductor qubits based on silicon and germanium. As semiconductor qubits are very small and the industry has decades of experience in microchip production, this type of qubit could be particularly suitable for future upscaling to several thousand qubits.

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