Australia's place in the semiconductor world: Silicon is quantum, quantum is silicon, and Australia may finally have an edge - Australian Manufacturing Forum

Australia’s place in the semiconductor world: Silicon is quantum, quantum is silicon, and Australia may finally have an edge – Australian Manufacturing Forum

At the start of the second week of our editorial series, Australia’s place in the world of semiconductors, Dr Andre Saraiva looks at Australia’s strengths in qquantum computing, and suggests that Australia could turn a chip crisis into a quantum opportunity.

A stone’s throw from Bondi and Coogee, silicon-based quantum computing was invented. It was 1998 and its inventor, Bruce Kane, was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of New South Wales. Surrounded by visionary scientists and engineers, Dr. Kane’s idea flourished below. Today, 24 years later, Sydney is a quantum capital of the world, and silicon qubits are the star of it.

The splintering of quantum technology companies around the world coincides with a sudden global realization that chipmaking is a key sovereignty issue and that promoting a competitive local semiconductor industry in a globalized world does not is not an easy task. The question I would like to address here is “how do these two aspects of our historical moment interact together?”, or more specifically “how could Australia turn a chip crisis into a quantum opportunity?”.

Silicon is quantum

Consumer electronics grab the headlines, so it’s easy to confuse transistor miniaturization with competitiveness. I’ve heard the question countless times about how Australia can compete with the world’s Tier 1 foundries, with their expensive and technically challenging advanced fabrication nodes. This may not be the best angle for the Aussies to kick-start their semiconductor ambitions. A surprisingly easier starting point may be in quantum technologies.

It turns out that transistor technology has long struggled with quantum effects. At the scale of tens of nanometers, semiconductor devices begin to reveal quantum effects such as Coulomb blockade, energy quantization and quantum tunneling. These effects are generally detrimental to classical MOSFET technology, but they are the tools used by engineers to build quantum technologies.

This means that quantum effects can be exploited even at less advanced manufacturing nodes that are currently used for analog and power applications. Additionally, quantum technologies often require new ways to interconnect quantum systems with a conventional electronic chip to process low-latency information (a quantum version of system-in-package solutions), which can be manufactured without breaking the bank.

Quantum is silicon

In 1998, the world witnessed the race of Intel’s Pentium II against AMD’s K6-2, both manufactured using technology nodes of 0.25 micrometers or more. At this point, imagining that silicon would ever be a competitive technology for quantum computing was a stretch. The only successful demonstrations of quantum states have occurred in systems known to be dominated by quantum effects, such as atoms or superconducting circuits.

Australia, however, played the long game. It took 14 years for the first spin qubits to be made and measured by implanting individual atoms into silicon. Two years later, the same was accomplished with quantum dots using CMOS manufacturing rules. Today, quantum processors with a few qubits are routinely manufactured at the Australian National Fabrication Facility, and they rank among the highest performing qubits in the world.

And the tides have now turned in favor of this Australian bet. Going from a handful of qubits fabricated in academic environments to breakthrough quantum processors requires increasing the throughput and complexity of these devices to levels that only CMOS foundries have achieved in human history. That means quantum tech companies around the world are racing to modernize their blueprints so they can be fabricated using CMOS processes, while silicon-based qubits are ready to roll.

Australia could have an advantage

Getting back to our original question: could quantum be Australia’s entry point into the global semiconductor market?

With the global shortage of chips, quantum computing companies are paying top dollar to be able to access foundry services and compete with industries such as consumer electronics and automotive. An estimated $1 billion a year is invested through venture capital in these start-ups, and much of it is funneled into manufacturing costs. This number is expected to grow significantly over the next few years, and it doesn’t even include internal investment from the biggest players, such as Google, IBM, Microsoft, and Intel, who are all keeping the scale of their quantum effort secret. .

Australia, being an authority in the field, could position itself as the destination for quantum foundry services. While the addressable market at the moment may seem small compared to other semiconductor technologies, Australia is uniquely positioned to capture it and ride its growth years into the future.

Dr. Andre Saraiva is responsible for solid state theory at Diraq. Saraiva is a solid state physicist, interested in the theory of the electronic structure of semiconductor devices used for quantum computing with spins, as well as general theoretical questions of quantum processor control, scalability and noise processes.

Photos: provided

@AuManufacturing and the editorial series of AUS-Semiconductor-Community, Australia’s place in the world of semiconductors, is offered to you with the support of the ANFF.

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