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Electron refrigerators will help keep quantum computers cool

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Researchers at Aalto University have developed a method of keeping quantum computers cool, using electrons fired through nano-scale tunnels.

The age of nano-computing is upon us, already showcased in the form of turning flags into loudspeakers, nano batteries made of recycled glass, and smart, nano sensor-embedded bandages, but with the great power of nanoscale and quantum computing comes problems, mostly in the form of heat production. A team of researchers from Aalto University in Finland has developed a solution — a built-in nano-refrigerating system.

While all computers generate heat that needs to be controlled, usually in the form of built-in fans, the scale and superposition of ‘qubits’ in quantum computers means that every component needs to be tightly controlled — even the tiniest fluctuations in heat distribution could create unreliable signalling and errors in the calculations. One solution could be to keep quantum computers in near-absolute zero conditions, but the running costs would be astronomical. The researchers have instead developed a solution that runs at affordable costs, whereby a stream of electrons are excited by a low external voltage source that forces them through a tunnel two-nanometers (1 millionth of a meter) wide, with the voltage set just low enough that the electrons themselves draw energy, in the form of heat, from the surrounding nano-machinery, causing it to cool down. The system is incorporated into a silicone-based microchip that holds two parallel superconductors, providing a solution that exists within the nano computer itself. To read more, the research paper is available in the journal Nature Communications.

Nano computing means incredibly powerful, tiny computers available in any kind of context — what other possibilities does nano technology hold?

Email: mikko.mottonen@aalto.fi

Website: www.physics.aalto.fi

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