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Future quantum computers could use bizarre 'error-free' qubit design built on forgotten research from the 1990s

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Quantum bits, or qubits, made from electrons floating on top of liquid helium could one day power the next generation of quantum computers, according to a new study.

While the bits that power classical computers encode data as either 0 or 1, qubits can be a superposition of these two states — meaning they can occupy both in parallel while processing calculations. Computers built this way can one day be much more powerful than today’s fastest supercomputers — and promise to be transformative in several fields including drug discovery and tackling climate change.

Qubits are normally made by manipulating the spin state of an electron between its spin-up and spin-down positions, which represent 1 and 0. 

Other particles used as qubits include trapped ions, photons, artificial or real atoms and quasiparticles, according to Microsoft, and most qubits achieve a superposition by cooling a superconducting metal (which contains the particle) to absolute zero.

But in a study published Nov. 9 in the journal Physical Review Applied, scientists argue this conventional approach to building a qubit is challenging. That's because combining electrons and solid-state crystals (including metals) creates impurities in the material. This means qubits aren't uniform and, in turn, this leads to a higher chance of qubits failing during calculations.

Related: How could this new type of room-temperature qubit usher in the next phase of quantum computing?

These defects can cause several issues, including  “unpredictable electrical potential” and difficulty producing “many uniform qubits,” the scientists said in a statement. It also means that scaling up the number of qubits in a quantum system will amplify the error rate.

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