Scientists have found that a class of materials being considered for the next generation of computers behaves asymmetrically, which they say is a key step in understanding the insulators that may have the potential to be the building blocks of a super-fast quantum computer that could run on almost no electricity.
In a paper published in Nature Physics, scientists from the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) say that this discovery will potentially enable the creation of a quantum computer that is energy efficient and will act like a human brain, imagining much more than it can see.
Their research about how the materials acts differently at different points will help in understanding topological insulators like bismuth selenide (Bi2Se3), bismuth telluride (Bi2Te3), antimony telluride (Sb2Te3), and mercury telluride (HgTe) that could be used as the foundation for a quantum computer — a machine with the potential of loading the information from a data center into the space of a laptop and processing data much faster than today’s best supercomputers.
NREL explains that a topological insulator is a material that behaves as an insulator in its interior but whose surface contains conducting states. However, it emphasizes that the material may not be practical for solar cells, because at the surface they contain no band gap. A band gap – the gap between when a material is in a conducting state and an inert state – is essential for solar cells to free photons and have them turn into energy carrying electrons. But it says the topological insulators could be very useful for other kinds of electronics-spintronics.
If the quantum computer were to use far less energy than today’s supercomputers, the big drop in electricity would also lead to a similar drop in the number of coolers and fans needed to cool it, scientists point out. But they caution that this is still basic science that may only have limited application in renewable energy, but would still be applicable for energy efficiency.
The paper was also co-authored by scientists with the University of Colorado, Rutgers University, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Colorado School of Mines.
Meanwhile, a global contest has been initiated by the energy agencies of different countries to make computer monitors more energy efficient. The Super-efficient Equipment and Appliance Deployment (SEAD) Initiative – an international coalition of national energy agencies – created a competition in January, aimed at improving energy efficiency of computer monitors. The SEAD Global Efficiency Medal competition for displays will recognize the most energy-efficient computer monitors on the market around the world as well as emerging technologies that have the potential to greatly reduce energy use in the future.
Image credit: Quantum computing – Lawrence Berkeley Lab