The power of Quantum Computing has arrived at Los Alamos Nuclear Weapons Labs.

D-Wave Systems provided its quantum computer D-Wave 2X to Los Alamos National Security, LLC, (LANS, LLC).

Los Alamos National Security Governance_Chart

Los Alamos National Security Governance_Chart

Los Alamos, New Mexico, was the site of Project Y, better known as the top-secret atomic weapons laboratory directed by J. Robert Oppenheimer, back in 1942, part of the Manhattan project. Nowadays is a private limited liability company (LLC) formed by the University of California, Bechtel, BWXT Government Group, Inc., and URS, an AECOM company (the atomic bomb company). LANS, LLC operates Los Alamos National Laboratory under contract to the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. Its president, Charles F. McMillan, also 10th Director LANSL, had been Principal Associate Director for Weapons Programs at Los Alamos and joined the laboratory in 2006.

On July 26th, 2016, the arrival to Los Alamos of “a nascent commercial quantum computer” has been announced on their 1663 magazine.

D-Wave 2X computer at Los Alamos

D-Wave 2X computer at Los Alamos

The D-Wave 2X is a big black box with a 150-square-foot footprint (including the adjoining controls cabinet). It is essentially a walk-in freezer that is highly shielded from outside interference, creating a specialized environment for the world’s first commercial quantum processor. The environment around the chip has a magnetic field 50,000 times weaker than Earth’s ambient magnetic field, a pressure 10 billion times lower than Earth’s atmospheric pressure, and a temperature hundreds of times colder than interstellar space. The 2X model had a cost of ~15 million dollars.

Los Alamos has been tasked with leading a collaboration between the Department of Energy and several American universities consistent with the goals of the National Strategic Computing Initiative, created in July by an executive order from President Barack Obama, “to maximize benefits of high-performance computing (HPC) research, development, and deployment.”

D-Wave headquarters street view

D-Wave headquarters street view

Unlike other quantum computers, D-Wave is suitable only for solving certain tasks, known as optimization problems. To find optimal solutions, researchers first put qubits, made of superconducting loops, into their lowest energy state, in which each is in a quantum superposition of both ‘on’ and ‘off’. Magnetic fields that represent the problem then gently nudge this state towards a new one — a process known as quantum annealing. The state evolves while maintaining its low energy such that when it eventually ‘collapses’, it should leave qubits in the best configuration for solving that problem. Because the system sifts every possible answer at once, in theory it could be a faster way to resolve problems that, when solved classically, get exponentially harder with each added variable.

The prospects for useful and profitable quantum computers are good enough to have drawn Google into the game, along with IBM and Microsoft, among others. However, there are a few companies that have shown that it is, at least, possible to create a working quantum computer. One such company is D-Wave, and this year (2017) they released the latest version of their quantum computer, the 2000Q model. Several academic groups are also pushing the technology in practical directions. At the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, for example, the government-backed QuTech Centre is bringing researchers together with the Dutch high-tech industry.

D-Wave CPU

D-Wave CPU

In 1965, Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, observed that the computational power of integrated circuits had doubled every year since the integrated circuit was invented. Moore predicted that this trend would continue for the foreseeable future.

D-Wave 2000Q model was released on January 25th, 2017, as the result of D-Wave’s fourth-iteration in quantum computer development, created using the input of researchers who have been using D-Wave’s previous models, and it double the computation power of its predecessor. “We’re providing guidance as a community of scientists,” explained physicist Davide Venturelli from the NASA Ames Research Center. NASA shares a D-Wave quantum computer with Google, and other D-Wave clients including Lockheed Martin company (the weapon company) and the Los Alamos National Libray.

Managers at the SCC inspect the double floor beneath the acre-size supercomputing room. Several of the giant air-cooling units are visible in the foreground and behind the managers. The Laboratory is anticipating and preparing for the increased demands of the next generation of computers: Exascale.

Los Alamos. Inspectors at floor beneath the acre-size supercomputing room. Several of the giant air-cooling units are visible in the foreground and behind the inspectors.

As pointed out in LANS-LLC’s announcement, Los Alamos and those other entities, with D-Wave systems in residence (the Los Alamos machine is the third D-Wave machine to be sited outside D-Wave headquarters) aren’t customers so much as they are collaborators. No one really knows everything the machine can do, and the best way to find out is to get it into the hands of a bunch of scientists. “It’s an investment in learning,” says Mark Anderson of the Weapons Physics Directorate who spearheaded the effort to bring a D-Wave 2X to Los Alamos. “We are building a community of scientists who want to explore the capabilities and applications of quantum-annealing technology. There is already a short queue of users at Los Alamos, who have been running experiments on a 2X machine at D-Wave headquarters in Canada. But now that there is one here, the line, and the excitement, is growing.”

So let’s meet again, in Los Alamos.

 

Updated on January, the 25th, 2107 (D-wave 2000Q model)

Sources:

lansllc.com

Wikipedia

atomicheritage.org

lanl.gov/1663

futurism.com

nature.com

nature.com

Wikipedia

dwavesys.com

lanl.gov

wired.com

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