Promoting Science and Technology – Missions,Policies & Schemes

Exploring Phonons as Information Units for Quantum Computing


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Phonons

Mains level: Not Much


Central Idea

  • Quantum computing and artificial intelligence are emerging fields in computing.
  • IBM recently published a paper demonstrating the potential of quantum computers to solve complex problems.
  • Qubits are the fundamental units of information in quantum computers.

Qubits – Basic Units of Information in Quantum Computing

  • Qubits are the building blocks of quantum computers.
  • Unlike classical computers, qubits can exist in superposition, representing both ‘on’ and ‘off’ states simultaneously.
  • Quantum physics allows particles, such as electrons, to exhibit unique properties for qubit representation.
  • The encoding of information in a quantum system enables complex calculations beyond the reach of classical computers.
  • Different types of quantum computing employ various units of information, such as photons in linear optical quantum computing (LOQC).

Exploring Phonons as Qubits

  • Researchers explore the possibility of using phonons as qubits.
  • Phonons are packets of vibrational energy, analogous to sound.
  • A recent study published in Science suggests that phonons can serve as information units in a quantum computer.
  • Manipulating phonons requires new tools, leading to the development of an acoustic beam-splitter.
  • Beam-splitters, widely used in optics research, split a stream of photons into two beams.

Behavior of Phonons and Interference Patterns

  • Beam-splitters operate on the principles of quantum physics.
  • The interaction of photons with beam-splitters creates interference patterns.
  • Interference patterns also emerge when shining photons one by one, highlighting wave-particle duality.
  • Phonons, like photons, exhibit wave-like behavior and exist in a superposition of states.
  • When a phonon interacts with the acoustic beam-splitter, it undergoes superposition and produces interference patterns.

Experimental Study on Phonons

  • Researchers developed an acoustic beam-splitter device with metal bars.
  • The experiment involved a two-mm-long channel of lithium niobate with superconducting qubits at each end.
  • Phonons were emitted and detected by the qubits, representing the collective vibrations of numerous atoms.
  • The interaction between phonons and the beam-splitter showed similar behavior to photon interactions.
  • Phonons emitted from one side were reflected or transmitted, depending on the experiment.

Implications and Future Prospects

  • The study confirms that phonons behave according to quantum mechanics.
  • Building a functional phonon-based quantum computer is a significant challenge.
  • Researchers view this as an extension of the quantum computing toolbox.
  • Future advancements and research will continue to explore the potential of phonons in quantum computing.


  • Phonons have shown promise as potential information units for quantum computing.
  • The study highlights the need for further research and development in this area.
  • While a functional phonon-based quantum computer is still a distant goal, the exploration of new possibilities in quantum computing continues.

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