Start-up Quix is the perfect match of science and technology

by Anita van Stel

10 May 2019

It sounds like a modern fairy tale: PhD student Caterina Taballione had a Eureka moment when she read an article by Rubicon postdoc Jelmer Renema: 'He needs our Triplex technology'. With a processor on her backseat, she drove to Oxford, where Renema used it to carry out experiments. Technology and science proved to be a perfect match. The idea for a company was hatched in 2018.

Quantum computer based on light

For several months, Renema and Taballione have been working in the brand-new, Twente-based start-up Quix on a quantum processor based on light. Renema explains that the quantum processor made by Quix is not related to the more widely known quantum computer. At Quix, it's not about qubits or Majorana particles but about photons. Renema developed photonic quantum processors: chips across which light particles (photons) move and act as information carriers. 'They jump from one channel to the other and influence each other's path, in a way that can only be explained using quantum mechanics. Translation to digital information does not take place. For example, we program a molecule and state what changes, and the processor spits out the transformation. Our processor is a quantum-mechanical system, which is why it happens automatically, so to speak', he explains.

Rubicon

The idea for the development of this quantum processor emerged from Renema's Rubicon research in Oxford, which focused on the "Boson Sampler": the prototype of a non-universal quantum computer. The Boson Sampler contains a network of channels that are positioned in a glass plate. Renema's goal was to expand the existing Boson Sampler into a photonic quantum processor, which could realise large and complex calculations that "normal" computers have difficulties with. In 2011, two researchers from MIT first demonstrated that quantum calculators fundamentally differ from traditional computers.

Triplex

In Oxford, Renema racked his brains about the optical chip, a matrix, upon which the many optical components could be integrated. 'It's like a shunting yard for light particles', he says. There was no suitable technological platform in sight. At least not until Renema wrote the article that Taballione saw. The PhD student in Rome, with a background in quantum optics and a specialist in the area of manufacturing non-integrated photonic circuits, was working with LioniX International in her PhD research project. This company specialises in the development of made-to-measure chips, such as photonic integrated circuits. LioniX developed the Triplex technology for telecom applications. 'During a conversation with Jelmer, I concluded that Triplex could offer the right solution', says Taballione. That was the moment the collaboration between Renema and Taballione started.

The perfecte match_credits Emiel MuijdermanThe perfecte match_credits Emiel Muijderman

Worked from the start

Taballione crossed the Channel – 'with the chip carefully packaged in the high-tech box' – and to the surprise of the researchers in Oxford, the device worked as soon as the power supply was connected. The many experiments revealed that the chip was ideally suited for quantum information purposes.

Within several years

Using the Triplex technology, Quix is now working on expanding the chip to a matrix of 20 x 20, and preferably bigger still. The first commercial photonic quantum processor should hit the market within several years. Renema: 'Our system fits underneath a table, can be used straight away and will be reasonably affordable.' He presumes that the market will initially consist of research labs and research groups. He says that one advantage of being a researcher is that he can translate the needs of fellow scientists into the products of Quix. The next step is therefore the development of a chip that will brush aside traditional computers. As an employee of Quix, Taballione is excited about her new work environment: 'The perfect combination of business, technology and science.'

About Jelmer Renema

With an NWO Rubicon Grant, physicist Renema moved to a postdoc position at the University of Oxford. Two years later, he returned to the University of Twente campus, where he found entrepreneur Hans van den Vlekkert was willing to invest in Quix. The two of them co-own the company. Renema also still holds a position at the Department of Complex Photonic Systems at the University of Twente. In 2018, he received a Veni grant for research into quantum mechanics and light.

Source: NWO