While tech giants like Google and IBM compete to build the next generation of supercomputers, a startup in College Park has gone a different route to build one that’s receiving praise.
Started by a physics professor at the University of Maryland, IonQ — which was recognized in the Hyattsville Wire’s 2018 readers’ poll — has built what Gizmodo recently called “one of the best-performing quantum computers yet” and the Wall Street Journal noted it’s attracting serious attention from investors.
The science can be a little hard to follow, but in a simplified form, the tech firms are all trying to build something that can go beyond the zeroes and ones that the computer you’re reading uses to encode information. Instead, by relying on the quirky world of subatomic physics, the computers would encode information in qubits — quantum bits that can be a little bit zero and a little bit one.
If quantum computing can be perfected, the difference in computing power would be astronomical, allowing complex calculations — such as modeling how an enzyme creates ammonia or optimizing traffic in big cities — that aren’t doable using traditional computers. It would be, pardon the phrase, a quantum jump for computers.
IonQ is attracting notice because it chose to build its computer using a different architecture than the ones being built by IBM and Google, relying on trapped ions (hence the name) instead of superconductors that must be kept at supercooled temperatures. If its bet is correct, that would put it ahead of its rivals.
Even if it doesn’t pay off, the fact that the company is being touted as a contender in the tech world’s current Great Race means College Park is moving closer to its goal of becoming the “next Silicon Valley.”
IonQ’s initial success complements the city’s other moves in that direction such as the recent opening of the first WeWork on a college campus; the university’s new robotics, engineering and computer science building; a nearby Fortune 500 innovation lab; new apartments aimed at recent grads; a $180 million hotel with convention space; and an upcoming light rail line that connects to a university-run research park.