What is quantum computing? In contrast to a conventional computer, the quantum computer does not perform its calculations on the basis of whether electricity is flowing but on the basis of quantum states. To put it very briefly, a conventional computer works with two mutually exclusive states. There is either 0 or 1; electricity is either flowing through the system or it isn’t. Quantum technology combines the two by using the effects of superposition and entanglement of the smallest particles of our matter. The result is that computing steps no longer run only serially - one after the other - but in parallel.
"That's a huge leap," explained Reimund Neugebauer, president of Fraunhofer Gesellschaft, in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in June 2021. If you had a computer with 100 qubits and one with 101 qubits, the latter would not only perform slightly better, but twice as well. Qubit - also called Qbit or Q-bit - stands for quantum bit. It is the smallest possible memory unit in quantum computing and the measure is used analogously to the bits used in conventional computers.
The Age of Quantum Computing Has Begun
The new technology took off in the 1990s, and in 2016 IBM credits itself with ushering in the age of quantum computing. This was not without reason, because the company made 5- and 15-qubit systems available to the public for the first time, setting a milestone in the use of super-fast computers. Just one and a half years later, the 50-qubit mark was cracked.
On June 16, 2021, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft and IBM launched Europe's first commercially available quantum computer. The media response was great. The technology has been recognized by all sides as a key technology and is receiving corresponding financial support. So far, it is still in its infancy but this was a giant leap in computing capacities and applications.
The new technology has great advantages where complicated analysis involving large amounts of data and variables is required. These include flow simulations for aircraft and the simulation of machine data. The entire field of space and climate research benefits from powerful computers that can calculate complex relationships at lightning speed.
One possible application is in medical research. When databases of 100,000 or more active ingredients have to be searched to find out how they might work in which combination on a particular virus, these are complex calculations. Since the quantum computer can calculate in parallel, it can do it in an economically reasonable amount of time. In other words, what takes a conventional computer days, weeks or months can be achieved by the quantum computer in one or two hours.
The Quantum Computer Is a Diva
No new technology comes without a special challenge. It is not entirely by chance that the measure of "quantum volume" exists. It says something about the quality, stability, robustness and error-proneness of such a system. The hardware of the quantum computer is extremely susceptible to failure; any shock or change in the environment can endanger the system. The so-called quantum state of the atoms must be precisely controlled, because effects of superposition and entanglement of atoms work only under very specific conditions.
For some computer components, the temperature must be close to absolute zero. Cooling units that achieve this are based on dilution cooling. VAT supplies vacuum and gas dosing valves for these refrigeration units, known as "dilution refrigerators" in the technical term, which meet the special requirements for particularly precise and reliable operation. A special feature of the VAT solution are multi-valve units in which several valve functions are combined in one compact housing. This reduces the installation volume, reduces the number of possible leakage points and simplifies assembly.
In short, without continuous cooling to temperatures close to 0 Kelvin (-273.15 °C) and ultra-high vacuum, there is no such thing as a functional quantum computer. For a long time, the new computers stood only in ivory-tower-like seclusion to ensure the delicate conditions in which they could operate. In the future, more robust devices will find widespread use in data centers but they will rely more than ever on these high-tech valves.