December 9, 2021

Beyond Going Long

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A quantum computer can be used for this purpose

You can read this article thanks to the Eset Science Prize, an award that supports exceptional science in Slovakia. Theoretical physicist Martin Jmetra is a finalist in the Eset Science Prize in the Outstanding Personality in Slovak Science category, and you will be able to watch the evening of celebration with the award winners announced on Saturday 16 October at 8:30 pm in Dvojka.

Quantum mechanics theory originated in the early twentieth century and helps describe the properties of matter that determine the electrons and their interrelationships in its atoms. Theoretical physicist RNDr. Martin Jmetra, PhD, who works at the Institute of Physical Sciences at Pavel Jozef Savarik University (UPJŠ) in Kosice, studies electronic structure in quantum materials, more specifically in atomically thin materials.

What does a theoretical physicist’s day look like?

Martin Gemetra does not have much free time. “Since I work at university, my day shifts between situations where I work on science projects or lecture at the master’s and doctoral level. This conversion is very difficult. It requires discipline. The amount of work done is controlled similarly to the uncertainty principle in quantum physics – if you lose an idea The time is completely at work, it will cost you a certain amount of energy. Then it is time to relax” says the theoretical physicist.

New discoveries in this field often undermine notions we have had about physics since high school, but at the same time they have the potential to push human technological progress forward again. For example, the discovery of the existence of so-called topological insulators, which are conductive in a special way, may contribute in the future to the creation of a new generation of energy-saving electronics. Due to the specific arrangement of atoms on the surface of these materials, current can flow in the thin layer of their surface without resistance. Quantum mechanics can also explain this.

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As a theoretical physicist, Martin Jmetra focuses primarily on basic research, but it opens up new avenues of how quantum materials can actually be used. “A very important and long-standing technological dream of mankind is to create a quantum computer,” explains Martin Jmetra, adding that the effort to study quantum materials is in principle in search of a suitable material so that we can build its individual elements.

A quantum computer can perform optimizations or simulations of complex systems. This can be used, for example, when searching for new drugs. “Of course, these computers do exist, but they operate on a small academic scale,” he said. The scientist says that his dream is to live their practical use.

What are you looking for exactly?

I am engaged in basic research on the electronic structure of atomic-thin materials. The quantitative nature of the substance in these substances manifests itself in unexpected stages, which can lead to new effects. It can also be imagined that electrons, elementary fermion particles, are converted into quasiparticles in interconducting solids, which can take various strange shapes, eg an electron may behave as if it has zero mass, similar to photons or light particles, or It behaves as a particle at one point in a substance and as an antiparticle at another point. We study these complex quantum states using quantum mechanics calculations of electronic structure. They allow us to discover fascinating physical phenomena that often conflict with our intuition.

What will be useful?

– With the help of theoretical calculations we can study properties of materials that may not actually exist yet. Since we are able to predict certain physical properties of a given quantum system, this in itself is a good motivation for the production of a particular substance. In this way, we can target technological development to a certain extent. Quantum materials themselves have powerful technological potential and will find application in new generations of electronic devices, and could even form part of a quantum computer.

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Do you think it is humanity’s dream to build a quantum computer? Do you think this is possible?

Yes, a quantum computer is the technological dream of the future, connecting different areas of fundamental research in quantum materials. It is an investigation of quantum properties and effects in new materials or heterogeneous synthetic structures of already known materials. Fundamental research also stimulates the development of technological processes for the production of these materials. All this is done in order to build a quantum bit, or qubit, that will be able to store information for the necessary time as long as the computation is performed. This is one of the most difficult tasks because the prepared quantum state assigned to a particular computation is very fragile and can be easily degraded, which is what we call decoherence. So the development is also accompanied by skepticism, as decoherence introduces a large number of errors in quantum computation. But a new hope is emerging, to use quasiparticles we call an ion (note: a particle is a quasiparticle that is neither a fermion nor a boson) and to create a topological quantum computer. The unknowns will be used as threads, and by applying the mathematical theory of entanglement, it will be possible to create the powerful logic gates needed for the quantum computations themselves.

What would such a computer look like and what could it do?

The computers are already there. For example, it is owned by well-known companies such as IBM, Intel, Microsoft or Google. They are very bulky systems immersed in refrigeration devices and operate at extremely low temperatures. So far, they are only on the order of a few tens of qubits. So their current computing capabilities are not competitive with traditional computers. A quantum computer does not yet aspire to completely replace classical computers, but its use is intended for specific optimization tasks, coding tasks, data analysis or simulations, such as chemical processes in the search for new drugs. He can do it faster.

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What role do you think computers will play in the future?

– It is difficult to predict from the quantum field :). Computers are already gaining ground as components of a global network – the Internet of Things. We are likely to be more and more connected through computers.

Can the catastrophic scenarios of some movies come true, and that artificial intelligence can control us?

We have knowledge that even simple connections in so-called cellular automata can create complex, spontaneous, self-organizing states. The complexity of the interconnectedness of the Internet of Things certainly gives AI a significant degree of freedom. It will definitely be necessary to get acquainted with the ways in which he behaves. Of course, we can protect ourselves with a “firewall” and the catastrophic scenarios of movie heroes will remain.

Collaboration with world scientists

Martin Gmitra studied physics at UPJŠ in Kosice. Having defended his thesis, he completed a number of residencies abroad of 13 years, which had a significant impact on his scientific life, for example in the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany. Thanks to this, he had the opportunity to collaborate with world-class capabilities in physics, such as Professors Joseph Barney, Jaroslav Fabian or Albert Wert, winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize in Physics. Through his research, he contributed to the elucidation or verification of many physicists. phenomena and theories.