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IonQ And University Of Maryland Researchers Demonstrate Fault-Tolerant Error Correction, Critical For Unlocking The Full Potential Of Quantum Computers

New study shows how trapped ions can be encoded to create qubits that are robust against errors
Team is first to demonstrate fault-tolerant error correction in practice, identifying and correcting errors without the risk of creating more
Results show promise for scaling error-corrected qubits, a necessary step to building more powerful quantum computers

Researchers from The University of Maryland and IonQ, Inc. a leader in trapped-ion quantum computing, on Monday published results in the journal Nature that show a significant breakthrough in error correction technology for quantum computers. In collaboration with scientists from Duke University and the Georgia Institute of Technology, this work demonstrates for the first time how quantum computers can overcome quantum computing errors, a key technical obstacle to large-scale use cases like financial market prediction or drug discovery.

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Quantum computers suffer from errors when qubits encounter environmental interference. Quantum error correction works by combining multiple qubits together to form a “logical qubit” that more securely stores quantum information. But storing information by itself is not enough; quantum algorithms also need to access and manipulate the information. To interact with information in a logical qubit without creating more errors, the logical qubit needs to be “fault-tolerant.”

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The study, completed at the University of Maryland, peer-reviewed, and published in the journal Nature, demonstrates how trapped ion systems like IonQ’s can soon deploy fault-tolerant logical qubits to overcome the problem of error correction at scale. By successfully creating the first “fault-tolerant logical qubit” — a qubit that is resilient to a failure in any one component — the team has laid the foundation for quantum computers that are both reliable and large enough for practical uses such as risk modeling or shipping route optimization. The team demonstrated that this could be achieved with minimal overhead, requiring only nine physical qubits to encode one logical qubit. This will allow IonQ to apply error correction only when needed, in the amount needed, while minimizing qubit cost.

“This is about significantly reducing the overhead in computational power that is typically required for error correction in quantum computers,” said Peter Chapman, President and CEO of IonQ. “If a computer spends all its time and power correcting errors, that’s not a useful computer. What this paper shows is how the trapped ion approach used in IonQ systems can leapfrog others to fault tolerance by taking small, unreliable parts and turning them into a very reliable device. Competitors are likely to need orders of magnitude more qubits to achieve similar error correction results.”

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Behind today’s study are recently graduated UMD PhD students and current IonQ quantum engineers, Laird Egan and Daiwei Zhu, IonQ cofounder Chris Monroe as well as IonQ technical advisor and Duke Professor Ken Brown. Coauthors of the paper include: UMD and Joint Quantum Institute (JQI) research scientist Marko Cetina; postdoctoral researcher Crystal Noel; graduate students Andrew Risinger and Debopriyo Biswas; Duke University graduate student Dripto M. Debroy and postdoctoral researcher Michael Newman; and Georgia Institute of Technology graduate student Muyuan Li.

The news follows on the heels of other significant technological developments from IonQ. The company recently demonstrated the industry’s first Reconfigurable Multicore Quantum Architecture (RMQA) technology, which can dynamically configure 4 chains of 16 ions into quantum computing cores. The company also recently debuted patent-pending evaporated glass traps: technology that lays the foundation for continual improvements to IonQ’s hardware and supports a significant increase in the number of ions that can be trapped in IonQ’s quantum computers. Furthermore, it recently became the first quantum computer company whose systems are available for use via all major cloud providers. Last week, IonQ also became the first publicly-traded, pure-play quantum computing company.

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