Materials for Quantum

Materials scientists likely hold the key to unlocking the quantum computing revolution

The Kavli Foundation’s interest in quantum information science and engineering is rooted in the fact this it touches on all our focus disciplines. Quantum computers are fabricated by using nanoscience principles and techniques. Quantum sensors and networks may drive the future of both astrophysical observations and brain imaging, while quantum is simply fundamental to many areas of studies within theoretical physics. It is one of the most exciting areas of science that will undoubtedly have major impacts on our society.

The recent pace of scientific and engineering progress is nothing short of remarkable. In just the last decade quantum computers have evolved from complex artisanal laboratory experiments to complete cloud-accessible computing systems open to anyone and developed by some of the most innovative technology companies. It has been astonishing to see such rapid progress as a result of incredibly dedicated and creative researchers who are continually refining these systems. These performance improvements have come from a variety of contributors including physicists designing new qubits and methods to interact with them, computer scientists developing novel algorithms and architectures, software engineers creating languages and programs to support these machines, and electrical engineers developing new systems to control complex instruments just to name a few. An extensive ecosystem is blossoming to realize the spectacular capabilities of a large-scale quantum computer capable of solving important but select computational problems intractable for even the largest classical high-performance computers. Suspiciously under-emphasized from this group, though, are the materials scientists who could augment and transform this entire endeavor with improved or entirely new materials on which to base quantum computing platforms.

For the last few years, The Kavli Foundation has been tracking scientific breakthroughs and their commensurate interest and investment from major funders globally. And while we have seen a great deal of focus on and support for existing quantum computing systems and bringing more computer scientists into the fold, there remains a lack of emphasis on engaging the materials science community. From my interactions with hundreds of scientists and engineers, two things became very clear; (1) materials scientists likely hold the key to unlocking the quantum computing revolution and (2) there are not enough of them exploring new materials or studying the limitations and severe constraints of the dominant quantum computing platforms of today.

After many months of discussion and planning, it took nearly one year for 10 contributors from three continents, with various backgrounds, who are passionate about the importance of materials science, to write a review addressing the materials challenges across the most popular quantum computing platforms. We hope this manuscript, published in Science, highlights some of the thematically common problems that plague many of the existing quantum computing hardware platforms, serves as a renewed invitation to the materials science community, and encourages funders and other organizations to provide the necessary support for the ensuing fundamental materials research that is so needed and will have transformational impact.

In the quantum future we’ll identify new drugs to fight disease, design better materials for energy harvesting, optimize the logistics that bring our world closer together, and find almost any needle in a digital haystack. That future is within our grasp, we just need a little help from our materials science friends.

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