Yale Professor Puts Schoelkopf’s Law to the Test at Quantum Computing Startup

Yale University Professor Robert Schoelkopf and Two Colleagues are New Competition in the Race to Build a Quantum Computer

From Silicon Valley start-up Rigetti Computing to IBM, from Google to Microsoft, from Sweden to China. The race is on to build a quantum computer, and a very interesting new competitor just joined the pack. Professor Robert Schoelkopf has flown under the radar until now. But it turns out this Yale University professor may have a very real advantage. Many companies—Intel, IBM, Google, and others—use quantum techniques pioneered by Schoelkopf.

You may be thinking a quantum professor doesn’t really sound like a major threat to IBM. Universities have often fared poorly in the commercial arena.  Many focus on licensing rather than start-ups. You’re not wrong, but Schoelkopf’s work on superconducting circuits and qubits give the Yale start-up, Quantum Circuits, a real shot.

Here’s the summary of the Schoelkopf Lab’s accomplishments from its homepage:

Our lab is one of the leaders in the development of solid-state quantum bits (qubits) for quantum computing, and the advancement of their performance to practical levels. Together with our collaborators at Yale, Professors Michel Devoret and Steve Girvin, we created the new field of “circuit quantum electrodynamics,” which allows quantum information to be distributed by microwave signals on wires. Our team has produced many firsts in the field based on these ideas, including the development of a “quantum bus” for information, and the first demonstrations of quantum algorithms and quantum error correction with integrated circuits. The group has been an innovator in high-speed measurement techniques at ultra-low temperatures, and invented numerous devices such as the RF single-electron transistor, the shot noise thermometer, and the transmon qubit.

Plus, the dude already has his own law.

Schoelkopf’s Law

Schoelkopf’s law states that quantum decoherence can be delayed by a factor of 10 every 3 years. It’s the quantum equivalent of Moore’s law, and it comes from over two decades of work to increase coherence time.

Quantum decoherence is the loss of coherence in a quantum system. When a quantum system makes contact with its surroundings, its coherence breaks down over time and it loses its quantum behavior. Without coherence, the system has no value in quantum computing. This makes storing information in a quantum system a real challenge. IBM’s recent announcement of a 50 qubit quantum computer was a huge deal, but the computer in question only maintained a quantum state for a brief, record-setting 90 microseconds.

Schoelkopf has been working to increase coherence time using superconducting circuits that have quantum properties at ultra-low temperatures. His team demonstrated the first quantum processor in 2009 and created the first superconducting bus for transferring information between qubits.  He’s got more awards for his work than published papers.

I said yesterday that in addition to funding, brainpower mattered. Well Quantum Circuits has $18 million from Sequoia Capital and what may be the biggest brains in the field. It’s hard to predict the winner of the quantum computing race, but I like Schoelkopf’s odds.

Correction: December 4, 2017

An earlier version of this post misstated the amount of time IBM’s computer maintained quantum state.  It was 90 microseconds, not 90 milliseconds.