Cryogenic advances a must for quantum technology applications

Last Updated July 12

Advances in quantum information science and technology (QIST) point to applications in communications, sensors for biomedicine and computational tools for managing finance, emergency response, transportation and the electric grid.  Many of the systems that will enable these applications will require cryogenic technologies that do not yet exist. Even doing the research to develop useful computers, networks and sensors can be accelerated by new cryogenic tools.

This blog post identifies four priorities for cryogenic technologies that will expedite the transformation of QIST from a research-focused realm to commercial deployment.

  1. Make cryogenics invisible
  2. Create a modular cryogenic ecosystem
  3. Increase productivity of cryogenic systems
  4. Democratize cryogenics

Moving from research to deployment

To date, researcher needs have been the primary driver of cryogenic system design and performance. As a result, the vast majority of cryogenic solutions and equipment are aimed at the custom needs of frontier experimentation at low temperatures. In addition, the diverse QIST applications being researched require a wide range of cryogenic capabilities, which has led to further customization and a lack of standardization among cryogenic solutions.

While it is still early days, as developers of commercial QIST applications prepare to move from the lab to robust deployable products, it is necessary for the cryo industry to meet the changing needs. Depending on the application, commercial QIST systems that will be deployed in the field likely will have requirements for cooling power, reliability, size/weight and ease of use and maintenance that currently are not available. At the research stage, throughput and automation are issues that hamper progress.

The Quantum Economic Development Consortium (QED-C), in consultation with experts in cryogenics and the needs of QIST systems, has identified the specific needs of cryogenic systems for the speeding research and commercial deployment of QIST. Four major priorities for cryogenic advancement are highlighted: invisible cryogenics, modular cryogenic ecosystem, high productivity cryogenics and democratizing cryogenics.

Priority 1: Make cryogenics invisible

The goal of “invisible” cryogenics is to make the cryogenic apparatus small enough in size, weight and power requirements (SWAP) that it does not dictate major design decisions. At the same time, it must provide sufficient reliability so that it does not degrade system performance or uptime.

Reducing SWAP will benefit virtually every application that uses cryogenics, whether scaling up quantum computers in a controlled facility or deploying rack-mounted quantum communications equipment in the field. Current bottlenecks include the volume of components, finicky interconnects and increasing heat load with scaling.

Priority 2: Create a modular cryogenic ecosystem

The highly custom nature of cryogenic systems sold today has led to wide variations in design and hinders R&D in a number of ways. These variations exist both across and within manufacturers, leading to issues with device mounting and interconnection, optical and electronic access, and the ability to maintain vacuum cleanliness and vibration stability.

The lack of standards makes it difficult to compare measurement results across systems, to exchange cryogenic samples and devices impacting throughput, and to scale up capacity and achieve cost reductions through economies of scale.

It is time for the cryogenic industry to develop modular, standardized cryogenic components and systems. This approach will accelerate productivity, improve reliability and help grow the research and commercial markets for cryogenics and QIST.

Priority 3: Increase productivity of cryogenic systems

For commercial entities to be able to deploy quantum systems with proven performance, the pace of testing and design iteration must be accelerated dramatically. Large scale, high volume testing with high throughput is necessary, but is currently hampered by factors such as:

  • Limitations on wiring and interconnects
  • Long cooldown times
  • Lack of validated models for circuits, components and systems at cryogenic operating temperatures
  • High cost of running multiple systems in parallel to obtain performance statistics

Priority 4: Democratize cryogenics

Increased access to cryogenic capabilities will accelerate progress—in scientific advances and innovation. The cost of cryogenic systems is a barrier to many researchers, especially at smaller institutions. Start-up and small companies are also likely to have limited resources and access to costly cryogenic systems. To speed the development and growth of QIST, access to cryogenic technology must be expanded.

The goal of democratizing cryogenics and QIST also means broader workforce training to support the demand for skilled workers by both the cryogenic and quantum industries. Hands-on experience is rare due to a lack of access to cryogenic technologies at universities. A possible solution would be to create a few shared facilities where students can get hands-on training. A coordinated internship program at cryogenic suppliers could also increase the number of graduates with practical experience.

 Conclusion

The four priorities introduced here — invisible cryogenics, modular cryogenic ecosystem, high productivity cryogenics and democratizing cryogenics — are critical if we are to see QIST move from research to commercial deployment. If you are interested in having access to the full cryogendic technologies for QIST roadmap and to contributing to enabling and growing the quantum industry broadly, consider becoming a member of QED-C.  For information contact Celia Merzbacher (celia.merzbacher@sri.com).