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Topological Quantum Computation
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Topological Quantum Computation

With the demand for faster, more powerful, more versatile computing growing, and the trend of smaller circuit size saturating, we inevitably must turn to a new era of intelligent, computational devices. We are reaching the limit of how fast and small we can make conventional microprocessors, and we urgently need to look to possible alternatives.

Quantum computers are one exciting avenue to explore. Research in quantum computing has offered many important new physical insights, as well as the potential of exponentially increasing the computational power that can be harnessed to solve important problems in energy, medicine, computer science, physics, mathematics, and material science. Quantum computing promises, quite literally, a quantum leap in our ability to execute complex quantum simulations across a wide range of applications.

Microsoft is working with universities around the world to develop the first quantum computer—a topological quantum computer. Since 2005, Microsoft’s collaboration with universities has driven a resurgence in condensed-matter physics, in the area of topological phases and materials. The unique basis of our approach to quantum computation is to use topological materials that by their nature limit errors. These are exotic, low-temperature systems that possess degrees of freedom that are immune to the action of local operators. By their topological nature, individual qubits and quantum gates are protected from errors. Examples of topological materials include fractional quantum Hall effect (FQHE) systems, Ising superconductor-topological insulator heterostructures (ISH), and 1D nanowires.

Among our ongoing external collaborators, Charles Marcus and the Marcus Lab at Harvard University have made great strides in fabricating and studying 1D quantum nanowires and FQHE systems. They aim to manipulate non-Abelian “anyons”—strange quantum quasi-particles that appear in 2-dimensional systems—for use in quantum information processing, and ultimately for building a full-scale quantum computer. Our collaboration with the Marcus Lab has revealed beautiful, intricate physics and a path toward building a topological quantum computer.

This project demonstrates our strong commitment at Microsoft Research to explore new computing paradigms that have great potential to influence the future of computing as well as the future of Microsoft.

Primary Researchers

Charles M. Marcus

Charles M. Marcus, Ph.D., is a professor of Physics at Harvard University and former scientific director of the Center for Nanoscale Systems. His main research interest is experimental condensed matter physics, including solid-state quantum information processing, nanofabrication of electronic devices, and electron transport. Much of his ongoing research has focused on clean, ballistic semiconductor structures, such as chaotic quantum dots, with more recent work emphasizing novel fabrication approaches and systems, effects of electron spin, measurements of electron decoherence, and potential applications of nanostructures to quantum information and quantum computing.

Michael Freedman

Michael Freedman, Ph.D., is the director of Microsoft Station Q and a Technical Fellow at Microsoft. His main research interest is topological states of matter and the construction of mathematical models which illuminate these. Dr. Freeman leads the Microsoft Station Q team, which is the Microsoft Research group working on topological quantum computing by combining research from math, physics, and computer science.