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World’s smallest quantum light detector now fits on a silicon chip

Researchers have successfully integrated the world’s smallest quantum light detector onto a silicon chip, marking a significant step towards the age of quantum technologies using light.

This breakthrough could pave the way for high-speed quantum communications and efficient operation of optical quantum computers.

Dr. Giacomo Ferranti and Professor Jonathan Matthews from the University of Bristol have published a paper in Science Advances, detailing their remarkable achievement.

The team has demonstrated the integration of a quantum light detector, smaller than a human hair, onto a silicon chip, occupying a circuit of just 80 micrometers by 220 micrometers.

Importance of scaling quantum hardware

Developing high-performance electronics and photonics at scale is crucial for realizing the next generation of advanced information technologies.

As quantum computing advances, the ability to manufacture high-performance quantum hardware at scale becomes increasingly important due to the vast number of components required to build even a single machine.

Professor Matthews, the lead researcher and Director of the Quantum Engineering Technology Labs, underscores the wide-ranging applications of the newly developed quantum light detectors.

“These types of detectors are called homodyne detectors, and they pop up everywhere in applications across quantum optics,” he explains.

From quantum communications to ultra-sensitive sensors, such as those used in cutting-edge gravitational wave detectors, these room-temperature detectors have the potential to revolutionize various fields.

Matthews also points out that certain quantum computer designs rely on these detectors, further emphasizing their significance in the advancement of quantum technologies.

Quantum light detectors shrink, speed increases

The small size of the quantum light detector enables it to be fast, which is essential for unlocking high-speed quantum communications and enabling high-speed operation of optical quantum computers.

In 2021, the Bristol team demonstrated how linking a photonics chip with a separate electronics chip can increase the speed of quantum light detectors.

Now, with a single electronic-photonic integrated chip, the team has further increased speed by a factor of 10 while reducing footprint by a factor of 50.

Dr. Giacomo Ferranti highlights the significance of quantum noise in measuring quantum light. “The key to measuring quantum light is sensitivity to quantum noise,” he explains.

This fundamental noise, inherent in all optical systems due to quantum mechanics, holds crucial information about the nature of the quantum light present.

By analyzing the behavior of this noise, researchers can determine the sensitivity of optical sensors and even reconstruct quantum states mathematically.

Ferranti emphasizes that in their study, demonstrating that the miniaturization and increased speed of the detector did not compromise its ability to measure quantum states was a top priority.

New applications for integrated detectors

While this technology is a significant step forward, the authors acknowledge that there is still more exciting research to be done in integrating other disruptive quantum technology hardware down to the chip scale.

The efficiency of the new detector needs improvement, and trials in various applications are necessary.

Professor Matthews emphasizes the importance of collaboration in overcoming the challenges of scalable quantum technology fabrication.

“We built the detector with a commercially accessible foundry in order to make its applications more accessible,” he explains.

The team’s excitement about the far-reaching implications of their breakthrough is palpable, but Matthews stresses that the scientific community must work together to ensure that the benefits of quantum technology are realized sooner rather than later.

Only by demonstrating truly scalable fabrication processes can we unlock the full potential of quantum hardware and usher in a new era of quantum-powered advancements.

Shrinking quantum light detectors

In summary, the University of Bristol researchers have taken a significant leap forward in the journey towards scalable quantum technology by successfully integrating the world’s tiniest quantum light detector onto a silicon chip.

This breakthrough demonstrates the potential for manufacturing high-performance quantum hardware at scale, using established and commercially accessible fabrication techniques.

As the team continues to improve the efficiency of the detector and explore its applications across various fields, they call upon the scientific community to collaborate in tackling the challenge of scalable fabrication of quantum technology.

By working together to overcome these hurdles, we can unlock the full potential of quantum computing, communication, and sensing, ushering in a new era of quantum-powered advancements.

The full study was published in the journal Science Advances.


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