Tuesday , September 27 2022

A quantum computer can be used for this


You can read this article thanks to the Eset Science Award, an award that supports outstanding science in Slovakia. Theoretical physicist Martin Gmitra is a finalist of the Eset Science Award in the category of Outstanding Personality of Slovak Science, you will be able to watch the gala evening with the announcement of the award winner on Saturday, October 16 at 8.30 pm in Dvojka.

The theory of quantum mechanics originated in the early 20th century and helps to describe the properties of matter that determine electrons and their interrelationships in its atoms. Theoretical physicist RNDr. Dr. Martin Gmitra, who works at the Institute of Physical Sciences of the Pavel Jozef Šafarik University (UPJŠ) in Košice, studies the electronic structure in quantum materials, more precisely in atomically thin materials.

What a theoretical physicist’s day looks like

Martin Gmitra doesn’t have much free time. “Since I work at the university, my day shifts between working on scientific projects or lecturing at the master’s and doctoral levels. This switch is quite difficult. That requires discipline. The amount of work done is controlled similarly to the principle of uncertainty in quantum physics – if you completely lose track of time at work, it will cost you well-defined amounts of energy. Then it’s time to relax. “ says a theoretical physicist.

New discoveries in this area often disrupt the notions of physics that we have had since high school, but at the same time have the potential to reverse the progress of human technological progress. For example, the discovery of the existence of so-called topological insulators, which are conductive in a special way, may contribute to a new generation of energy-efficient electronics in the future. Due to the specific arrangement of atoms on the surface of these materials, current can flow in a thin layer of their surface without resistance. Quantum mechanics can also explain this.

As a theoretical physicist, Martin Gmitra focuses mainly on basic research, but opens up new horizons on how quantum materials can actually be used. “A very important and long-term technological dream of mankind is the creation of a quantum computer,” explains Martin Gmitra, adding that the effort to study quantum materials is in principle the search for the appropriate material in order to build its individual elements.

A quantum computer can perform complex optimization or simulation operations on complex systems. This can be used, for example, in the search for new drugs. “Sure, those computers already exist, but they work on a small, academic scale.” says a scientist whose dream is to experience their practical use.

What exactly are you researching?

– I am engaged in basic research of the electronic structure of atomically thin materials. The quantum nature of matter is manifested in these materials in unexpected phases, which can lead to new effects. It can also be imagined that electrons, elementary fermion particles, are converted into quasi-particles in solids for interconnection, which can have different exotic shapes, e.g. an electron can behave as if it has zero mass, much like it has photons, light particles, or act as a particle at one point of the material and as an antiparticle at another point. We study these complex quantum states using quantum-mechanical calculations of electronic structure. They allow us to discover fascinating physical phenomena that are often contrary to our intuition.

What will it be good for?

– With the help of theoretical calculations, we can study the properties of materials that may not really exist yet. And since we are able to predict the specific physical properties for a given quantum system, that in itself is a good motivation for the production of a given material. In this way, we can to some extent target technological development. Quantum materials themselves have strong technological potential and will find application in new generations of electronic devices, they may even be part of a quantum computer.

Do you think it is humanity’s dream to create a quantum computer? Do you think this is possible?

– Yes, the quantum computer is a technological dream of the future, which connects different areas of basic research in quantum materials. It is the study of quantum properties and effects in new materials or synthetic heterostructures of already known materials. Basic research also stimulates the development of technological processes for the production of these materials. All this is done in order to create a quantum bit, or qubit, which will be able to store information for the required time as long as the calculation process is performed. This is one of the most difficult tasks because the prepared quantum state intended for a given calculation is very fragile and easily degraded, which we call decoherence. Thus, development is also accompanied by skepticism, because decoherence introduces a large number of errors into quantum computation. But there is a new hope to use quasi-particles that we call biloions (note: anon is a quasi-particle that is neither a fermion nor a boson) and to create a topological quantum computer. Anons would be used as threads, and by applying mathematical interweaving theory it would be possible to create the robust logic gates needed for quantum calculations themselves.

What would such a computer look like and what could it do?

– Computers already exist. For example, they are owned by well-known companies such as IBM, Intel, Microsoft or Google. They are rather bulky systems immersed in cryostats and work at extremely low temperatures. So far, they are only of the order of a few dozen qubits. Thus, their current computing capabilities are not competitive with traditional computers. The quantum computer does not yet have the ambition to completely replace classical computers, but the goal of its use is specific optimization tasks, cryptographic tasks, data analysis or simulations, such as chemical processes in search of new drugs. He could have done it much faster.

What do you think computers will play in the future?

– It is difficult to predict from the quantum sphere :). Computers are already becoming increasingly popular as elements of the global network – the Internet of Things. We will probably be more and more connected via computers.

Could catastrophic scenarios of some films be realized, so that artificial intelligence could control us?

– We have knowledge that even simple connections in so-called cellular automata systems can create self-organized spontaneous complex states. The complexity of interconnecting the Internet of Things will certainly give artificial intelligence a significant degree of freedom. It will certainly be necessary to recognize the ways in which it behaves. Of course, we can protect ourselves with a “firewall” and catastrophic scenarios will remain for the heroes of the films.

Cooperation with world scientists

Martin Gmitra studied physics at UPJŠ in Košice. After defending his dissertation, he completed a series of stays abroad for 13 years, which had a great impact on his scientific career, for example in the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany. Thanks to that, he had the opportunity to cooperate with world capacities in physics, such as professors Josef Barnas, Jaroslav Fabian or Albert Fert, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2007. His research contributed to the clarification or verification of several physical phenomena and theories.

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