How 2D Materials Could Lead to Faster Computers

Radical advances could mean innovative technologies

Key Takeaways

  • Researchers say that using two-dimensional materials could lead to faster computers. 
  • The discovery could be part of a coming revolution in the field that includes quantum computers. 
  • Honeywell recently announced that it had set a new record for quantum volume, a measure of overall performance.
Someone looking over fiber optic cables.
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Recent advances in physics could mean significantly faster computers leading to a revolution in everything from drug discovery to understanding climate change effects, experts say. 

Scientists have detected and mapped the electronic spins in a new type of transistor. This research may lead to faster computers that take advantage of electrons’ natural magnetism instead of just their charge. The discovery could be part of a coming revolution in the field that includes quantum computers. 

"Quantum computers process information in a fundamentally different way than classical computers, which enable them to solve problems that are virtually unsolvable with today’s classical computers," John Levy, co-founder and CEO of the quantum computing firm Seeqc, said in an email interview.

"For instance, in an experiment performed by Google and NASA, the results from a specific quantum application were generated in a small number of minutes compared to the estimated 10,000 years it would take the most powerful supercomputer in the world."

Two-Dimensional Materials


In a recent discovery, scientists researched a new area called spintronics, which uses electrons’ spin to perform calculations. Current electronics use the electron charge to make calculations. But monitoring the spin of electrons has proved difficult. 

A team led by the Division of Materials Science at the University of Tsukuba claims to have used electron spin resonance (ESR) to monitor the number and location of unpaired spins moving through a molybdenum disulfide transistor. ESR uses the same physical principle as the MRI machines that create medical images. 

“Imagine building a quantum computer application sufficient to simulate the safety and efficacy of clinical drug trials—without ever testing them on a real person.”

To measure the transistor, the device had to be cooled to just 4 degrees above absolute zero. "The ESR signals were measured simultaneously with the drain and gate currents," Professor Kazuhiro Marumoto, co-author of the study, said in a news release

A compound called molybdenum disulfide was used because its atoms form a nearly flat two-dimensional (2D) structure. "Theoretical calculations further identified the origins of the spins," Professor Małgorzata Wierzbowska, another co-author, said in the news release. 

Advances in Quantum Computing

Quantum computing is another area of computing that is rapidly advancing. Honeywell recently announced that it had set a new record for quantum volume, a measure of overall performance. 

"This high performance, combined with low error mid-circuit measurement, provides unique capabilities with which quantum algorithm developers can innovate," the company said in the release. 

While classical computers rely on binary bits (ones or zeros), quantum computers process information via qubits, which because of quantum mechanics, can exist either as one or zero or both at the same time—exponentially increasing processing power, Levy said. 

Quantum computers can run an array of significant scientific and business problem applications previously thought to be impossible, Levy said. The usual speed measures like megahertz don’t apply to quantum computing. 

The important part about quantum computers isn’t about speed in the way we think about speed with traditional computers. "In fact, those devices often operate at much higher speeds than quantum computers," Levy said.

A portrait of a person with an overlay of an artificial intelligence concept overlaid on top.
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"The point is that quantum computers can run an array of important scientific and business problem applications previously thought to be impossible."

If quantum computers ever become practical, the ways the technology could impact individuals’ lives through research and discovery are endless, Levy said. 

"Imagine building a quantum computer application sufficient to simulate the safety and efficacy of clinical drug trials—without ever testing them on a real person," he said.

"Or even a quantum computer application that can simulate entire ecosystem models, helping us better manage and combat the effects of climate change."

Early-stage quantum computers already exist, but researchers are struggling to find a practical use for them. Levy said that Seeqc plans to deliver within three years "a quantum architecture that’s built around real-world problems and has the ability to scale to meet the needs of businesses."

Quantum computers won’t be available for the average user for years, Levy said. "But the business applications for the technology are already making themselves apparent in data-intensive industries such as pharmaceutical development, logistics optimization, and quantum chemistry," he added.

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