The Netherlands is at the forefront of the race to create the world’s first quantum computer

To cure deadly diseases, to make deserts fertile, to understand gravity: the quantum computer will soon be capable of it all. Current computers will fade next to it.

Companies like Google, IBM, Microsoft and the EU are investing billions to be the first to have a properly functioning quantum computer. He who succeeds in it possesses the holy grail of physics. Microsoft has turned its attention to Dutch researcher Leo Kouwenhoven and his Qutech team.

The world’s first to measure Majorana particles

In 2012, Kouwenhoven turned the scientific world upside down by being the first in the world to measure the Majorana particle. These mysterious Majorana particles, which the scientist Ettore Majorana predicted back in 1937, have been searched for 75 years. Since the particles appeared in Kouwenhoven’s laboratory in 2012, Delft has not only been known for its blue-and-white porcelain, but also as the beating heart of quantum mechanics.

Majoranas are considered to be the most suitable building blocks for a quantum computer. Kouwenhoven is now trying to weave in ice-cold cylinders at a temperature of -273 degrees. “If we succeed in making a node with two Majorana particles in the coming year, we will have the ideal qubit. And then we can start building the quantum computer.”


How a quantum computer works.

Two places at once

Our current computers work with bits, but the quantum computer requires qubits (quantum bits). Qubits behave differently than bits that are binary. Bits, like a human, a chair or marble, cannot be in two places at once. A bit is either 0 or 1, but never 0 or 1 at a time.

Qubits are nanoparticles and can be in two places at the same time. They can assume a superposition and are thus quantum. “It makes the quantum computer incredibly fast. Something that a normal computer has to rely on for a few years, a quantum computer can calculate in seconds,” says Kouwenhoven. “Current computers will fade. They can then be compared to an abacus next to a calculator.”

No one understands how, but it works

The problem with all quantum mechanics is that we can not see what is happening. Nobel laureate Robert Freyman already stated about quantum mechanics that it is ‘safe to say no one understands’.

“If you want to see as a human being during the calculations of a quantum computer, the superposition disappears. The cubits immediately return to their fixed place and the information becomes binary again. That is because we as humans are not able to look at quantum. by looking you change the result of a measurement, “explains Kouwenhoven.

Out of the maze in a second

Kouwenhoven explains how a quantum computer works using a maze. “The quantum computer has a helicopter view and searches from above for the fastest exit. During the measurement, the qubits are present everywhere in the labyrinth at the same time, which means that the fastest route is found in a fraction of a second. But if we as scientists were to take a look , we would stand. ” immediately back into the two-dimensional maze, and the helicopter view has disappeared. So we can not see until the end is found. That makes it intangible, but oh so exciting. “

The members of PQCRYPTO are working on new quantum resistant cryptography

Blessing and cursing at the same time

In addition to solutions, the quantum computer will also bring problems. “Medical files, banking information, but also state secrets will no longer be protected,” says Benne de Weger, associate professor of cryptanalysis at Eindhoven University of Technology. “A ‘normal’ binary computer takes a million years to crack an encryption, but a quantum computer can do it in a matter of hours.”

Together with researchers from eleven universities and companies, De Weger is working on new cryptography in the research consortium PQCRYPTO. “I’m not so much a maker, but more of a code breaker. Compare that to a crash test or a stress test. I can see how quickly a code can break.”

Closer to nature with quantum

Kouwenhoven expects the quantum computer to bring people closer to nature. “For remember: every chemical reaction in our body is also quantum. But because we as humans can only think binary, we do not see quantum reality.”

“We are like prisoners in a cave who only see the shadows on the rock wall and hear echoes. We do not see the source of the sounds and the shadows, so the echoes and the shadows are our only reality. But there is more, and the quantum computer it will show us , “says Kouwenhoven.


Watch the TV report here

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Documentary The Race

Documentary filmmaker David Kleijwegt has been following Kouwenhoven and his team since the discovery of the Majorana particles. “I found it a huge challenge to make a documentary about a process that we as humans cannot observe and understand,” says Kleijwegt.

“There’s a big difference between what Leo does not understand and what I do not understand. Even after six years, I can only explain Leo’s research through what I was told during the filming. So reproduce. Real understanding is something else. But it is sure the quantum computer will change our lives. “

The documentary Run can be seen on NPO2 on Monday 4 February at 20.25.

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