Bernard van Heck Wins Christiaan Huygens Prize 2016
Bernard van Heck has won the Christiaan Huygens Prize 2016 for his Leiden PhD research on electrical circuits for quantum computers. On behalf of the KNAW, the Dutch minister of Education, Culture and Science awards this prize annually to a researcher who has made an innovative contribution to science.
Scientists across the globe are working hard on realizing the first quantum computer—a revolutionary machine which computes differently than conventional computers. A promising way of building one is with the use of Majorana particles, which are predicted to appear in carefully crafted superconductors. These particles possess a special property: they can 'share' a quantum state while being far apart, and 'hide' it from the environment. Furthermore, by moving the particles around each other—'braiding'—their shared state can be changed in a controllable way. These properties make Majorana particles well equipped as building blocks for a quantum computer.
To perform calculations, a Majorana quantum computer will have to manipulate its building blocks somehow, like a classical computer switches its transistors on and off. In this case this turns out to be difficult, however, because unlike the electrons moving in a transistor, Majorana particles have no electric charge. Van Heck, together with several colleagues, has developed a method to manipulate Majorana particles without actually touching and moving them. Importantly, the method uses standard electronic components—capacitors and inductors—in order to 'braid' the particles, and so it is practically feasible in the laboratory. Several international research groups have picked up Van Heck’s method to try and build a real-world quantum computer.