Quantum computers will be able to solve problems well beyond the reach of existing computers while working much faster and consuming vastly less energy. An inorganic compound was developed that adopts a crystal structure capable of sustaining a new state of matter known as quantum spin liquid — an important advance toward quantum computing.
In the new compound — lithium osmium oxide — osmium atoms form a honeycomb-like lattice, enforcing a phenomenon called “magnetic frustration” that could lead to quantum spin liquid as predicted by condensed matter physics theorists. In a permanent magnet like a compass needle, the electrons spin in an aligned manner; that is, they all rotate in the same direction. In a frustrated magnet, the atomic arrangement is such that the electron spins cannot achieve an ordered alignment, and instead are in a constantly fluctuating state, analogous to how ions would appear in a liquid. The lithium osmium oxide shows no evidence for magnetic order even when frozen to nearly absolute zero, which suggests an underlying quantum spin liquid state is possible for the compound.
The quantum spin liquid phenomenon has so far been detected in very few inorganic materials, some containing iridium. Osmium has the right characteristics to form compounds that can sustain the quantum spin liquid state. The compound is the first honeycomb-structured material to contain osmium.
The concept of quantum computing is based on the ability of subatomic particles to exist in more than one state at any time. Classical computing relies on bits — pieces of information that exist in one of two states, a 0 or a 1. In quantum computing, information is translated to quantum bits, or qubits, that can store much more information than a 0 or 1 because they can be in any “superposition” of those values.