Israeli Researchers Unveil Country’s First Quantum Computer
Israeli researchers have unveiled the country’s first quantum computer – one of only 30 computers of its kind in the world.
The quantum computer is also one of less than 10 that use ion traps, a technology using magnetic or electric fields to capture or “trap” charged particles (ions) within an isolated space.
A team of researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science built the computer over the course of several years. The team developed it in the lab of Prof. Roee Ozeri, a quantum computer expert in the Department of Physics Complex Systems at the Weizmann Institute
Dr. Tom Manovitz, a quantum computing researcher who led the project, and research student Yotam Shapira, detailed their work in PRX Quantum, a peer-reviewed journal published by the American Physical Society (APS).
The quantum computer is called WeizQC as a tribute to WEIZAC, Israel’s first computer, which was dedicated at the Weizmann Institute in 1955.
“One of the world’s first computers, WEIZAC, was built here in the 1950s when all Israel had was swamps and camels,” said Prof. Ozeri, in a university statement. “Today Israel is a technological empire; there’s no reason we shouldn’t be front-runners in the quantum computing race.”
A quantum computer is a computational device that makes use of distinctively quantum mechanical phenomena, such as superposition or entanglement, to perform operations with data. The basic principle of quantum computation is that quantum properties are used to structure data, while quantum mechanisms are built to perform operations with it.
Quantum computers are capable of solving certain computational problems faster than classical computers. Unlike classical computers, quantum computers are based on the properties of quantum physics. They can be extremely beneficial for certain tasks where they could considerably outperform even the best supercomputers.
Prof. Ozeri calls quantum computing the “holy grail of modern computing,” in a video highlighting Israel’s first quantum computer.
In a classical (or conventional) computer, information is stored as bits. In a quantum computer, it is stored as quantum bits, or qubits. Unlike today’s computers, which are limited by the boundaries of classical physics, quantum computers obey an entirely different set of “laws” – the laws of quantum mechanics, referring to particles of nature in a microscopic world. In a “familiar” world, humans, cats, and even bits, can only be used in one place at a time. By contrast, qubits can be simultaneously present in more than one position or state, enabling them to conduct multiple calculations in parallel. This phenomenon, called superposition is vast computing power.
In short, “quantum particles can exist in multiple realities simultaneously,” said Prof. Ozeri, “This enables running processes in parallel, which gives quantum computers their advantage.”
Quantum computation ability will lay the technological foundation for an Israeli ecosystem that will lead to future developments in security, economics, technology, engineering, and science, the Israel Innovation Authority (IIA) and the Defense Ministry’s Directorate of Research and Development (MAFAT) have said.
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“Superpowers such as the US, China, the European Union, and multinational organizations such as Google, Amazon, and IBM are all in the race towards achieving such capabilities,” Prof. Ozeri added.
The computer built by Weizmann researchers is a five-qubit machine, roughly the level achieved by IBM’s version when the company first started offering quantum computing as a cloud service.
Accordign to Ozeri, the team at Weizmann will use the current quantum computer to run advanced algorithms. In the meantime, an even larger computer is already in the works in Ozeri’s lab. The larger computer, called WeizQC is scheduled to work with 64 qubits. The computer, which will likely take at least another year, is expected to demonstrate the quantum advantage, which until now has only been achieved by computers built in labs at Google and at the University of Science and Technology of China.
Demonstrating quantum advantage means that “with this computer, we’ll be able to calculate things that even the largest classical computers can’t compute,” Prof. Ozeri said.
Quantum computing in Israel
In February, the Israel Innovation Authority (IIA) and the Defense Ministry’s Directorate of Research and Development (MAFAT) announced that they will allocate NIS 200 million (about $62.1 million) to build Israel’s first quantum computer.
Israel’s investment in the quantum computer would be directed towards two tracks. In the first track, the Israel Innovation Authority would focus on building and developing a quantum computational infrastructure for running calculations directly or via cloud access, to optimize or improve different elements in quantum computing. The infrastructure will assess existing algorithms and will implement research and development in all layers of software and hardware, but will not include fabless installations.
The Defense Ministry said MAFAT would establish a national center with quantum capabilities that will be at the center of an Israeli ecosystem that will establish local capabilities. The center will collaborate with academia, industry, and the organizations that make up the National Research and Development Infrastructure (TELEM) to deal with the layers in developing a quantum processor, such as hardware, optimization, and algorithmics.
“Quantum computing, on all levels, is showing signs of being an important future component of the state’s security and its technological superiority. Starting this process in the framework of the national program constitutes a significant step towards achieving Israeli independence in this area.” said Dr. Danny Gold, head of MAFAT said last month.
The investment in quantum computing is added to the investments of tens of millions of shekels that has been carried out so far in the technological development among companies and researchers, as part of the National Quantum Science & Technologies Program, which was launched around two years ago by the TELEM Forum (National Research and Development forum), with a budget of NIS1.25 billion (about $388 million.)
In 2019, the Knesset committed nearly $400 million to a five-year National Quantum Initiative which included $60 million towards the effort of producing a quantum computer at the time.
“Just think of the impact that quantum computing brought to our leaves in the last 60-70 years and imagine what new computing technology could do looking into the future,” Prof. Roee Ozeri said.