Computer simulation, a revolutionary research approach first conceived by mathematicians during the Second World War for military studies, has become an indispensable tool for researchers, academics and developers everywhere. It helps them advance scientific knowledge and develop technologies. Computer-aided design is cost-effective, risk-free and flexible—and avoids the classical hit-and-miss R&D process. It increases production capacity, reduces development costs and shortens time to market.
The emerging realm of miniature quantum devices, including lasers and semiconductor-based transistors, will rely even more heavily on simulation software in the design and production stages. Quantum will revolutionize research again by peering into the tiniest features of the world more deeply than anything before. The devices could be the key to solving blindness, cancer or dementia. They can build resilience to cyber attacks, transmit electrical power from plants without loss and replace GPS technology with small devices that work everywhere and at all times.
Quantum simulators are radically different from traditional computer simulators because they take into account nanoscale interactions of quantum systems that behave in unexpected ways. Quantum simulation software predicts that behaviour, helping researchers understand and consider those differences at the design stage before sensors are fabricated in the lab. Until now, a comprehensive quantum simulation method for solid-state systems has eluded developers.
A small Canadian company, Nanoacademic Technologies Inc., has tackled this challenge with an effective new method: solid-state quantum device simulation. This method can model semiconductor-based quantum device properties over a unique spectrum of features while being agnostic about the geometry and considered materials.
With the help of the quantum research team at the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and contribution funding from the Collaborative Science Technology and Innovation Program, Nanoacademic enhanced its software code and has taken the product from the lab to the market much more quickly than originally anticipated.
Nanoacademic's Quantum Technology Computer-Aided Design (QTCAD) calculates a variety of properties in almost any geometries of semiconductor-based spin-qubit devices. In addition to electron simulation, a new feature simulates quasiparticles such as holes. These offer remarkable physical insights into elements that may not even exist by modeling technological advantages specifically for hole-based quantum devices.
"QTCAD makes it possible to finely model semiconductor devices by meshing them in specific ways at a very small (nanometric) scale to design basic functional units of future quantum computers," says Jeremy F. Garaffa, Nanoacademic's Director of Sales and Marketing. "And we are actively developing additional software features and modules that are also pretty unique." These include bridging the quantum modeling features of QTCAD with their set of density-functional theory codes—something no other software on the market can do.
To help Nanoacademic take QTCAD to the next level and prepare the product for market launch, their contacts at the Institut quantique in Sherbrooke, Quebec, introduced them to the quantum research team at the NRC in 2020.
"Supported by the NRC's scientific expertise, we crafted a project to anchor our tool with the most advanced theoretical physics as well as experiments that allowed us to compare and validate the performance of our software," adds Garaffa.
Getting to the finish line
According to Dr. Marek Korkusinski, Senior Research Officer with the Quantum Physics Group, the NRC's role has been to conduct experiments with Nanoacademic's software, communicate the results and work with the company to verify the data. "They use these data to calibrate their calculations and determine whether their simulation models will work in the real world," he says.
The NRC meets frequently with the Nanoacademic team, led by Dr. Félix Beaudoin, Director of Quantum Technology, to discuss challenges, solutions and results. With each partner bringing different yet critical expertise to the table, the collaboration has led to a version of QTCAD that is now commercially viable with customers in several countries.
Further commercialization will see the software used widely in academia, where it will speed up learning, reduce costs and train highly qualified personnel. In industry and government, it will take fewer resources to reach goals and provide safe alternatives to traditional on-the-ground experimentation.
This project is supported by the NRC's Quantum Sensors Challenge program and under the commercialization pillar of Canada's National Quantum Strategy. "It particularly embodies the importance of materials research and development," says the NRC's Dr. Aimee K. Gunther, Deputy Director of the Quantum Sensors Challenge program. "As it has for previous revolutionary technologies like computers and smartphones, our success depends on the quality of the engineering tools used to design fundamental components and building blocks."