Material joining experts at Culham have experienced a surge in demand for their niche skills – thanks in part to the growth of the quantum computer industry.
UKAEA’s Special Techniques Group (STG) is a specialist material joining facility with more than 40 years of experience within fusion research.
With tech firms increasingly using quantum computers to solve complex problems, there is an ever-increasing demand for the components that these computers require.
In a standard computer, data is processed by electrons passing through transistors which then encode it into a binary number such as zero or one. In a quantum computer, the data is processed by qubits – meaning it can be both one and zero at the same time.
Quantum computers make use of lasers in order to reach the atoms held in a vacuum. These lasers have to travel through an optical windows or viewports – similar components to those on tokamaks in fusion.
This is manufacturing which STG has been able to take advantage of.
“The growth in the use of our viewports seems to have been driven by word of mouth mainly,” said Martin Cuddy, Project Engineer at STG.
“Researchers started using them in places like Massachusetts Institute of Technology. When they moved to other universities and research institutes, we started to get orders from new markets.
“There are multiple applications that use our viewports. Quantum computing being one, but no doubt more will evolve over time.
“We are always open to new opportunities and welcome collaborations with customers to develop commercial products.”
When optical windows are bonded to metal – as they are when forming a vacuum – this can sometimes cause distortion – affecting the laser’s accuracy.
In order to counter this, STG specialises in customised builds.
“As our bonding method is very forgiving, we can regularly change our geometry to meet the needs of the customer,” added Martin.
One customer – Georg Jacob from Alpine Quantum Technologies GmbH – said: “At AQT we are building a prototype for a 19 inch rack compatible quantum computer, based on trapped ions. We have special requirements on some of our vacuum parts, which none of our usual suppliers could meet.
“The custom re-entrant viewport for our high NA objective provided by the Special Techniques Group from UKAEA meets all our demands and was realised in the way we requested.”