Quantum computers hold great potential, but they remain hard to build because their basic components—individual quantum systems like atoms, electrons or photons—are fragile. A relentless and noisy background constantly bombards the computer’s data.

One promising theoretical approach, known as topological quantum computing, uses groups of special particles confined to a plane to combat this environmental onslaught. The particles, which arise only in carefully crafted materials, are held apart from each other so that the information they store is spread out in space. In this way, information is hidden from its noisy environment, which tends to disrupt small regions at a time. Such a computer would perform calculations by moving the particles around one another in a plane, creating intricate braids with the paths they trace in space and time.

Although evidence for these particles has been found in experiments, the most useful variety found so far appear only at the ends of tiny wires and cannot easily be braided around one another. Perhaps worse for the prospect of quantum computing is that these particles don’t support the full power of a general quantum computer—even in theory.

Now, researchers at JQI and the Condensed Matter Theory Center (CMTC) at the University of Maryland, including JQI Fellows Sankar Das Sarma and Jay Deep Sau, have proposed a way to dispense with both of these problems. By adding an extra process beyond ordinary braiding, they discovered a way to give a certain breed of topological particles all the tools needed to run any quantum calculation, all while circumventing the need for actual braiding. The team described their proposal last month in Physical Review X.

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