Quantum science technologies will help researchers better understand the natural world and harness quantum phenomena for the benefit of society. They will transform healthcare, transportation and communications, and increase resilience to cyber threats and climate catastrophes. For example, a quantum magnetic field sensor will provide functional imaging of the brain; Quantum optical communication would enable encrypted communication; Quantum computers will facilitate the discovery of next-generation materials for photovoltaics and medicine.
These technologies currently rely on materials that are expensive and difficult to manufacture, and often require expensive and cumbersome cryogenic cooling processes to function. This equipment relies on high-quality raw materials such as liquid helium, which is becoming increasingly expensive due to declining supplies around the world. In 2023 there will be an innovation revolution in quantum materials that will reshape quantum technology. In addition to reduced environmental requirements, this material enables room temperature operation and energy savings, as well as low cost and simple processing requirements. To improve their quantitative properties, research labs can manipulate the chemical composition and packaging of molecules. The good news is that physicists and engineers are busy, and in 2023 this stuff is moving out of the science lab and into the real world.
The UK Research Council for Engineering and Physical Sciences recently announced an innovative materials approach for quantum technologies led by Imperial College London and the University of Manchester. Established in collaboration with hundreds of researchers from Imperial, Royal and University Colleges London, the London Center for Nanotechnology has extensive experience in modeling and describing quantum systems. The British Metrology Centre, the National Physical Laboratory, has opened the Institute of Quantummetry, a multi-million pound facility dedicated to the characterisation, validation and commercialization of quantum technologies. Collaboration between researchers and industry will usher in a new era in pharmacy, cryptography and cybersecurity.
Qubits, the building blocks of quantum computers, rely on materials with quantum properties, such as the spin of electrons, that can be manipulated. Once we can exploit this property, we can manipulate it with optical and magnetic fields to create quantum phenomena like entanglement and superposition. Superconducting qubits, the most advanced qubit technology to date, consist of Josephson junctions that function as superconductors (materials that conduct electricity without resistance) at extremely low temperatures (-273 °C). Extreme temperatures and high operating frequencies mean that even the most fundamental aspect of these superconducting qubits, the dielectrics, is difficult to design. Currently, qubits include materials such as silicon nitride and silicon oxide, which have so many defects that the qubit itself must be millimeters in size to store electric field energy, and collisions between neighboring qubits introduce significant noise. With these materials, it's almost impossible to get the millions of qubits needed for a quantum computer.
In 2023 there will be more innovations in material design for quantum technologies. Of the many excellent candidates that have been considered so far (such as nitrogen-free diamond, van der Waals/2D materials, and high-temperature superconductors), I am most excited about using molecular materials. These materials are based on carbon-based organic semiconductors, a recognized class of materials for high-volume consumer electronics (which revolutionized the multi-billion dollar OLED display industry). We can chemically control its optical and electronic properties, and the infrastructure for its development depends on the experience gained.
For example, chiral molecular materials—molecules that exist as pairs of mirror images no larger than harmonics—would revolutionize quantum technology. Thin single-beam layers of this versatile molecule can be used to control electron spin at room temperature. At the same time, metallic phthalocyanine's long spin coherence time and good thermal and chemical stability will make it advantageous for quantum information transmission.
While there will certainly be more headlines about the speed of quantum computing in 2023, materials scientists will be researching, discovering and developing the next generation of low-cost, powerful and stable quantum technologies.