Purdue University announced that its partnership with Microsoft on quantum computing projects has been extended by several years. The collaboration is supposed to help both the college and the company bring quantum computers out of the laboratory and into the real world.
It's safe to say that quantum computing is something of an obsession for top universities and businesses alike. Just look at some of the stories from the last few months: Stanford University is researching materials that could make quantum computing more feasible, Google is trying to bring a quantum computer to market within the next few years, and IBM recently leapfrogged the competition by revealing 16- and 17-qubit computers. (A qubit is the quantum equivalent to a bit--the main difference is that qubits aren't binary; they can have a value of 0, 1, or both.)
Microsoft is (clearly) also interested in quantum computing. Besides the partnership with Purdue, the company recently told reporters gathered at its Redmond campus that its researchers are working hard to make a quantum computer. But the company doesn't want to go it alone, and with this extension of its partnership with Purdue, it's reaffirmed its desire to be part of the race to quantum computing. Here's what Microsoft researcher Michael Freedman said about quantum computing in today's announcement:
“There is another computing planet out there, and we, collectively, are going to land on it. It really is like the old days of physical exploration and much more interesting than locking oneself in a bottle and traveling through space. We will find an amazing unseen world once we have general purpose programmable quantum computers.
Freedman also said that Purdue generally, and Michael Manfra specifically, will be "a key collaborator on this journey." Manfra's full title is as follows: Purdue University's Bill and Dee O'Brien Chair Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Professor of Materials Engineering and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. (We're pretty sure that title alone is longer than some college students' papers.) Freedman said that Manfra and his team's work on materials silence and transport physics will help Microsoft "build the systems we will use to do quantum computing."
The partnership will specifically focus on creating a "topological qubit." We'll let Manfra explain that bit:
"One of the challenges in quantum computing is that the qubits interact with their environment and lose their quantum information before computations can be completed," Manfra says. "Topological quantum computing utilizes qubits that store information 'non-locally' and the outside noise sources have less effect on the qubit, so we expect it to be more robust."
The idea, then, is to make quantum computing more stable. Microsoft actually said that was its plan in November 2016, shortly after the University of New South Wales revealed that it had created "dressed qubits" that were 10-times more stable than their predecessors. Chances are good that Purdue wants to best that figure--academia is a cutthroat world--and Microsoft can quickly benefit from those efforts. A stable qubit is a useful qubit; an unstable one isn't likely to help Microsoft lead us to quantum computing like a technological Christopher Columbus.