Physikalisches Institut (PHI)

Research group Ustinov: Superconducting qubits


Superconducting quantum circuits are among the most promising solid state candidates as building elements for quantum computers due to their ultra-low dissipation, inherent to superconductors.

A short introduction is here (in german, from Helmholtz Perspektiven March-April 2014):  Was ist eigentlich ein Quantencomputer?

In general, superconducting quantum devices have unique properties like magnetic field resolution, coherence, scalability, and implementation. They are well suited for applications ranging from basic research over to applied disciplines like material characterization, medical imaging to quantum computers. Superconducting qubits fulfill the DiVincenzo criteria for a scalable quantum computer. Using integrated-circuit processing techniques such as used for digital and rapid single flux quantum (RSFQ) circuits, complex micron-sized quantum circuits can be scaled up to a large number of qubits.

In ten years, impressive progress has been made to address, control, readout, and scale superconducting qubits, resulting, for example, in the proof of the violation of Bell's inequality, measurements of three qubit entanglement, quantum non-demolition readout, creation of arbitrary photon states, and circuit quantum electrodynamics in strong and ultra-strong coupling regimes.

At KIT, we simulate, design, fabricate and measure superconducting qubits - including varieties of phase, flux and transmon qubits. The qubits are controlled by DC flux to chance their level splitting (|0> and |1> state) and by microwave pulses to excite them. As the typical energy splitting between the qubit states is about several GHz, the temperature of the circuit has to be kept low enough (10 GHz <-> 0.5 K) to avoid thermal population of the excited states.

Our research interests range from new readout techniques, qubit designs, resonant circuit material science to quantum metamaterials and quantum simulation.Starting from circuit simulation we implement the quantum chips using local facilities (Center for Functional Nanostructures) before measuring in a dilution refrigerator.

Students are always welcome for Bachelor, Master or PhD positions.

We use quantum and electromagnetic circuit simulation, nanotechnology, milliKelvin cryostats, and transport and microwave setups for our research.

Here is a laymen presentation of our research (Experimentelle Realisierung des Quantencomputers).

The projects depend on the current state of our research. In case you are interested feel free to contact us.

Contact: Dr. Martin Weides

further reading →

Research group Ustinov: Exploring microscopic defects within the material of superconducting qubits

Josephson Junction
tunnel energy
photo of experiment

A quantum computer can be built if its qubits fulfill the DiVincenzo criteria [1], such as scalability, reliable qubit-qubit coupling and long coherence times. Decoherence stems from coupling of the qubit to the environment, and the characteristic decoherence time is the timescale, on which the quantum state loses its phase information and becomes classical. Working at low temperatures (<< 1K) and using clever design minimizes the decoherence in superconducting systems. Still, at low temperatures dielectric losses which stem from microscopic defects in the qubit material seem to be a dominating decoherence source. In the well-studied model of Phillips & Anderson [2, 3], those defects are described as single atoms (or small groups of atoms) that reversibly and slightly tunnel between two lattice sites of the solid. Such so-called Two-Level-Tunneling-Systems (TLS) have transition frequencies within a wide microwave range, they possess an effective dipole moment by which they can strongly couple to oscillating electric fields in their hosting device.

Superconducting qubits are realized by circuits which are evaporated as thin films (aluminium in our case) on an insulating substrate such as silicon. The parasitic TLS disturbing the qubit coherence are situated in the surface oxide of the aluminium film as well as in the dielectric tunnel barrier of the Josephson junction, the main building element of every superconducting qubit. TLS are thought to be a main decoherence source in superconducting qubits, although their microscopic nature is still unclear. In 2004 Martinis et al. [4] first showed resonant interaction of a superconducting Phase qubit with individual TLS situated in its Josephson junction. This enabled our development of a novel high-resolution defect spectroscopy method.

We explore systematically coherence properties of single TLS using a superconducting Phase qubit as a tool to observe & manipulate. Quantum protocols are used to perform Rabi-, T1-, Ramsey- or spin echo-measurements on TLS. During the last years a unique method was established in cooperation with Prof. Weiß group which allows putting under physical strain the solid hosting TLS in order to check their properties when external lattice tensions are present [5, 6]. Further, we have elaborated an in situ control of quasiparticle density at the Josephson junction to explore the TLS-quasiparticle interaction. Also statistical distributions of TLS parameters (tunnel and asymmetry energy, see figure) as well as TLS thermalization processes after strong elastic deformations are being probed. The actual project is to use the newest qubit type “Xmon” [7] for TLS detection on the surface of the qubit’s material.

For questions concerning Bachelor- Master or PhD-thesis, please contact Jürgen Lisenfeld or Alexander Bilmes

[1] David P.DiVincenzo. The physical implementation of quantum computation. Fortschr. Phys., 48:1931–1951, 2000.
[2] W. A. Phillips. J. Low Temp. Phys., 7, 1972.
[3] C. M. Varma P. W. Anderson, B. I. Halperin. Philos. Mag., 25, 1972.
[4] R. W. Simmonds, K. M. Lang, D. A. Hite, S. Nam, D. P. Pappas, and John M. Martinis. Decoherence in josephson phase qubits from junction resonators. Phys. Rev. Lett., 93:077003, Aug 2004.
[5] Grigorij J. Grabovskij, Torben Peichl, Juergen Lisenfeld, Georg Weiss, and Alexey V. Ustinov. Strain tuning of individual atomic tunneling systems detected by a superconducting qubit. Science, 338(6104):232–234, 2012.
[6] Jürgen Lisenfeld, Grigorij J. Grabovskij, Clemens Müller, Jared H. Cole, Georg Weiß, and Alexey V. Ustinov. Observation of directly interacting coherent two-level systems in an amorphous material. To be published.
[7] Coherent Josephson Qubit Suitable for Scalable Quantum Integrated Circuits, Phys. Rev. Lett. 111, 080502 – 22 Aug 2013

Research group Ustinov: Solitons in Josephson junctions

Soliton propagation is an interesting field in various contexts within nonlinear physics.

A unique feature of long Josephson junctions is that they allow the experimental study of soliton dynamics with a great degree of precision, impossible for many other physical systems with solitons.

A soliton in a Josephson junction accounts for a magnetic flux quantum moving between two superconducting electrodes. Mathematically, it is described by a solitarywave solution of the sine-Gordon equation which models the electromagnetic wave propagation in the junction.v

A soliton in a Josephson junction accounts for a magnetic flux quantum moving between two superconducting electrodes. Mathematically, it is described by a solitarywave solution of the sine-Gordon equation which models the electromagnetic wave propagation in the junction.

When increasing the bias current, the soliton velocity increases and approaches the velocity of light in the junction (so-called Swihart velocity). This velocity is about 30 times smaller than the light velocity in vacuum. The soliton has all characteristic properties of a relativistic particle. Thus, here we can experimentally study the relativistic dynamics in a volume of less than 1 cm3!

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Research group Ustinov: Imaging sources of dissipation and nonlinearity in superconductors


The superconducting state has unique features for realizing compact solid-state devices with controllable macroscopic quantum properties and long coherence time.

Investigation of intrinsic origins of the nonlinear behavior and energy losses in superconducting structures at microwave frequencies has both fundamental and practical relevance. In particular, it is important to identify the local sources of nonlinearity associated with the global nonlinear response of superconducting structures irradiated by microwaves.

We apply a high-resolution, nondestructive evaluation technique of low-temperature laser scanning microscopy to the investigation of local microwave properties of superconducting thin-film circuits. In this technique, a modulated laser beam is focused onto and scanned over the surface of a resonant superconducting device to probe the spatial distribution of microwave currents.

The spatially localized photo-induced change of the kinetic inductance of the device produces both a shift of the resonant frequency and change of the quality factor. An image of these changes is recorded as the laser spot is scanned over the device. By using a newly developed procedure of spatially-resolved wave impedance partition, the influence of inhomogeneous current flow on the formation of nonlinear microwave response in such planar devices is analyzed in terms of the independent impact from resistive and inductive components. The capability of our method to probe the spatial variations of two-tone, third-order intermodulation currents on micron length scales is used to find the 2D distribution of the local sources of nonlinear response.

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Research group Ustinov: Intrinsic localized modes (discrete breathers)

Nonlinearity and lattice discreteness of many nonlinear lattices lead to a generic class of excitations that are spatially localized on the scale comparable to the lattice constant. These excitations, also known as intrinsic localized modes or discrete breathers, have recently attracted a lot of interest in theory of nonlinear lattices.

The energy of a breather is strongly localized in one place and does not diffuse to other regions of the system. A characteristic property of discrete breathers in dissipative systems is that these localized excitations are predicted to persist under the influence of a spatially uniform driving force. Discrete breathers have been discussed in connection with a variety of physical systems such as large molecules, molecular crystals, and spin lattices.

Our group pioneered imaging of these localized excitations in (quasi-)2-dimensional arrays of coupled Josephson junctions also called Josephson ladders. A biased Josephson junction behaves very similar to its mechanical analog that is a forced and damped pendulum. An electric bias current flowing across the junction is analogous to a torque applied to the pendulum. The maximum torque that the pendulum can sustain and remain static corresponds to the critical current of the junction. For low damping and bias below the critical current, the junction allows for two states: the superconducting (static) state and the resistive (rotating) state. The phase difference of the macroscopic wave functions of the superconducting islands on both sides of the junction plays the role of an angle coordinate of the pendulum. According to the Josephson relation, a junction in a rotating state generates a dc voltage which can be measured. A discrete breather in a Josephson ladder corresponds to a state where one (or several) junctions are in the whirling (resistive) state, with all other junctions performing small forced oscillations around their stable equilibria.

We use the method of low temperature laser scanning microscopy to visualize various rotating states in our ladders.

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Research group Ustinov: Hybrid Quantum Systems

Future quantum networks will interconnect many quantum systems of diverse physical nature. Photons are ideal carriers of quantum information over long distances because they can be efficiently send through low loss optical fibers. On the other hand, fast and scalable quantum gates can be implemented in solid-state system, e.g. architectures involving superconducting circuits. Thus, interfacing photonic and solid-state qubits withing a hybrid quantum architecture offers a promising route towards large scale distributed quantum computing. Ensembles of optically active spins are promising candidates for realizing such a quantum media converter. Among these, spin ensembles consisting of rare earth (RE) erbium Er3+ ions doped into a Y2SiO5 crystal matrix play a special role due to the 1.54 µm optical transition of  Er3+, which exactly matches the low loss Telecom C-band of optical fiber communication.

This project is supported by the "Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung" through the project QUIMP.



[1] S. Probst, H. Rotzinger, S. Wünsch, P. Jung, M. Jerger, M. Siegel, A. V. Ustinov, P. A. Bushev, "Anisotropic rare-earth spin ensemble strongly coupled to a superconducting resonator", Phys. Rev. Lett. 110, 157001 (2013) arXiv:1212.2856 [quant-ph]

[2] Matthias U. Staudt, Io-Chun Hoi, Philip Krantz, Martin Sandberg, Michaël Simoen, Pavel Bushev, Nicolas Sangouard, Mikael Afzelius, Vitaly S. Shumeiko, Göran Johansson, "Coupling of an erbium spin ensemble to a superconducting resonator"J. Phys. B: At. Mol. Opt. Phys. 45 124019 (2012)

[3] P. Bushev, A. K. Feofanov, H. Rotzinger, I. Protopopov, J. H. Cole, C. M. Wilson, G. Fischer, A. Lukashenko and A. V. Ustinov, "Ultralow-power spectroscopy of a rare-earth spin ensemble using a superconducting resonator", Phys. Rev. B 84, 060501(R) (2011)

Research group Ustinov: Quantum phase slip phenomena in superconducting nano-wires

Prof. Dr. Alexey Ustinov, Dr. Hannes Rotzinger
Illustration of the superconducting order parameter fluctuation&nbsp;across a nano-wire.</em><em>The underlying SEM image shows a&nbsp;wire with a width of 20nm made from aluminium-oxide at KIT.
Illustration of the superconducting order parameter fluctuation across a nano-wire.The underlying SEM image shows a wire with a width of 20nm made from aluminium-oxide at KIT.
In thin superconducting filaments, quantum fluctuations of the order parameter lead to very unusual physical properties. For instance, due to the quantum fluctuations, a superconducting wire can undergo a phase transition to an electrically insulating state.
We perform experiments on this unusual wires at low temperature and probe the quantum phase slip phenomena by very low power scattering of coherent microwave photons. Due to their intrinsic non-linearity, quantum phase slip wires also offer the possibility to be included into superconducting circuits to create artificial two-level systems, commonly known as qubits. 
[1] Aluminium-oxide wires for superconducting high kinetic inductance circuits by Rotzinger, Hannes; Skacel, Sebastian; Pfirrmann, Marco; Voss, Jan Nicolas; Munzberg, J; Probst, Sebastian; Bushev, Pavel; Weides, Martin; Ustinov, Alexey; Mooij, J, Superconducting Science and Technology, 2016, accepted for publication.
[2] Superconductor-insulator transition in nanowires and nanowire arrays
Mooij, J. E.; Schön, G.; Shnirman, A.; Fuse, T.; Harmans, C. J. P. M.; Rotzinger, H.; Verbruggen, A. H.
2015. New Journal of Physics, 17, 033006. doi:10.1088/1367-2630/17/3/033006