A quantum simulator is not quite the same thing as a gate-based or annealing-based quantum computer, but it still may provide valuable in certain applications. A quantum simulator can be used to model a larger quantum mechanical system using the same quantum mechanical rules. As an analogy, think of how airplane designers will put a model airplane in a wind tunnel to gain knowledge of how the real airplane will perform once it is built. However, a quantum simulator will be confined to certain application specific use cases and will not be as universal as gate-based quantum computers that are supported by extensive quantum programming platforms. The team at the Harvard-MIT Center for Ultracold Atoms has been developing such systems for a while. In 2017, they created a 51 qubit quantum simulator using rubidium atoms lined up in a 1D array. And now, they have created a larger 256 qubit system using atoms that can be arranged in a 2D array. The cold atom technology used has some similarities to ColdQuanta’s 100 qubit Hilbert machine that we recently reported on. While ColdQuanta uses cesium atoms in its implementation instead of rubidium, both use lasers to cool the atoms and then laser light to create optical tweezers that arrange the atoms in the desired location. The Harvard-MIT machine has already been used to study several exotic quantum states of matter and also to perform a quantum phase transition study. It may also be able to help uncover new and exotic forms of matter in future research. Additional information about this project is available in an article on The Harvard Gazette website here and a technical paper published in Nature magazine which you can find here.

July 10, 2021