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CEA sees future in waferscale quantum computing chips

French research giant, C12 see challenges, but prototype slated for 2024

Here's something we will only believe once we see it: A quantum computing chip the size of a large silicon wafer.

Paris-based quantum computing startup C12 Quantum Electronics is working on the multi-qubit chips in conjunction with CEA, the government-backed French research institution. CEA has an overall annual budget [PDF] of €5 billion and its own supercomputing bona fides, so at least the startup is getting some real research muscle behind it.

C12 said this new work is building from a "breakthrough in manufacturing quantum chips on 200mm silicon wafers." 200 millimeters equals roughly 7.8 inches in diameter, which is a very large surface on which to fabricate several qubits — short for quantum bits — the fundamental yet extremely delicate building blocks of quantum computers. Not many regular chip companies have even tried to make a wafer-size chip due to the multidimensional complexities involved. In recent memory, only Cerebras Systems comes to mind.

Sébastien Dauvé, CEO of the CEA-Leti lab, acknowledged the challenges ahead but said there is potential in combining C12's approach of making qubits using tiny carbon nanotubes with traditional CMOS processes used to fabricate wafers. They expect a "full final prototype" in 2024.

"Quantum technology offers great promise for the next computing generation but still faces significant developmental challenges for fabricating qubit chips," he said. "Combining well-established CMOS technologies with C12's original approach using carbon nanotubes could accelerate progress toward commercializing quantum computing and manufacturing those chips at scale."

Pierre Desjardins, CEO and co-founder of C12, said the partnership with CEA is a "key milestone" for the startup, which will allow it to "transfer an academic fab process to an industrial-grade semiconductor fab process." This will enable C12 to produce higher quality qubit chips in higher volume, he added.

According to C12 and CEA, this combination of new and old processes will allow the startup to create a "scalable and ultra-coherent platform for quantum computing," and he reckons progress is already underway.

The two organizations said they have already demonstrated, for the first time in the world apparently, the ability to manufacture the core components needed to "calibrate, control and read" qubits using standard manufacturing processes for volume production.

C12 said this breakthrough will allow it to integrate several qubits onto a semiconductor chip created by CEA. This will be done by mechanically assembling minuscule carbon nanotubes, where qubits reside, onto the chip itself, and C12 said it results in qubits that perform reliably.

The result of this process is that C12 will be able to "design electronic circuits with near-arbitrary complexity, while protecting the qubit from contamination until the final fabrication step," it said.

In addition to their work on wafer-size qubit chips, C12 and CEA have also started manufacturing chips for the startup's quantum accelerators, which will be used for classical supercomputers. Much of this work is happening thanks to the $10 million seed round C12 raised last year from investors, which included Airbus Ventures and OVHCloud founder Octave Klaba. ®

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