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Walking into the trap

Trapped: The chip structure of an ion trap
Trapped: The chip structure of an ion trap

The discovery that the world is governed by principles of quantum mechanics is over 100 years old. Today, we take many technological applications of quantum physics for granted – from lasers and semiconductor technology to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The applications of second-generation quantum technology currently emerging go a step further, allowing individual quantum objects to be controlled and deliberately exploiting basic quantum effects for technological innovations in the near and distant future.


  • Quantum computers: A conventional bit has a value of either zero or one. A “quantum bit” (Qubit), on the other hand, does not describe this simple choice but both possibilities simultaneously. While conventional computers, even those with many bits and very fast single steps, can only carry out their computations one after the other, quantum computers are massively parallel systems. However, for such systems to work, the fragile qubits must be isolated extremely well and maintained in exceptionally good condition. With these conditions met, a quantum computer with as few as 50 Qubits can solve special tasks that modern supercomputers cannot handle.
  • Quantum simulators: While quantum computers are conceived of as “general-purpose calculating machines”, quantum simulators are designed as specialist devices for specific problems in fields such as materials research, quantum chemistry and high-energy physics. Although such simulators must be configured separately for each simulation purpose, they can then tackle problems that cannot be solved by conventional computers.
  • Fundamental research: By controlling individual quantum objects, the basic laws of physics can be investigated very closely, allowing greater insight into the principles of the world.


The question of which objects or systems best convey quantum information has not yet been conclusively answered. The two currently most promising candidates are trapped ions in vacuum and tiny superconducting circuits near absolute zero.

PTB is pursuing an approach for a scaleable quantum processor based on patented ion traps developed and manufactured in-house. By means of this technology, so-called quantum gates have been realized that form the core of every quantum computer.

At PTB’s Quantum Technology Competence Center, a user platform is currently being built for external partner organizations that will allow ion traps to be characterized quickly and reliably. No facility of this type exists anywhere in the world, yet it is a critical prerequisite for the commercial development of a quantum computer based on ion traps and for additional innovations in high-resolution spectroscopy and metrology (among other things).

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Linear 3D ion traps allow ion chains and qubits to be manipulated with great precision in a highly controllable and protected environment. PTB is currently developing novel 3D ion traps whose scalability allows several ion ensembles to be trapped at the same time. Selected materials and techniques from micromanufacturing are used to design traps with optimized electrical and thermal properties. Integrating electronic and optical components directly on the trap will allow compact and robust platforms for quantum applications to be implemented.

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Mikrostrukturierte Oberflächen Ionenfallen stellen eine Plattform für Quantensensoren dar und eignen sich zur Implementierung zukünftiger Quantencomputer. Eine wesentliche Voraussetzung um die Anzahl der kontrollierten Ionen und Qubits zu erhöhen ist eine Mikrostruktur welche das Anlegen vieler Signale ermöglicht, z. B. durch Integrierung von Mikrowellen-Leitungen. Mehrlagige Elektrodenstrukturen bieten eine Plattform welche dies ermöglichen. Ein Patent zur Herstellung solcher Strukturen wurde vor kurzem erteilt. Erste mehrlagige Ionenfallen wurden auf Basis des Herstellungsverfahrens produziert und mit 9Be+ Ionen getestet.

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