Who’s to say it’s impossible to build your own quantum processor

At Sovetjheza Senior Secondary School in a rural village in Mpumalanga, Unathi Skosana remembers being fascinated by the physics teacher singing the Periodic Table Song in Ndebele, or conjuring up elephant toothpaste from a mixture of hydrogen peroxide, dish soap, and a few drops of food colouring.
It is perhaps no wonder then, that when he was exposed to quantum mechanics in his third year at Stellenbosch University, that fascination with science kicked in again.
Today he is pursuing an MSc-degree in quantum computing, with his first research paper, written in collaboration with his study leader Prof Mark Tame, published in Nature Scientific Reports, one of the most authoritative scientific journals in the world of science. The article, a proof-of-concept demonstration of a quantum order-finding algorithm for factoring the integer 21, has already been downloaded 350 times and cited in two articles by researchers from Singapore, Malaysia, China, Spain, and Germany.
Tame, who holds the South African research chair in photonics in SU’s Department of Physics, says he was delighted when Skosana decided to continue the work he started as a BSc Honours student on demonstrating small-scale quantum algorithms on IBM’s quantum processors.
“For his MSc, Skosana decided to look at the prospect of realising Shor’s algorithm on the IBM quantum processors for factoring the number 21. He is a very bright and promising researcher, and certainly does not shy away from tackling difficult challenges in quantum computing,” he describes his student.
Yet, despite several attempts over the past decades to realise Shor’s algorithm for small numbers such as 21, the results have been noisy and not very conclusive. “Quantum technology is still in early development stages,” Skosana explains.
“We were surprised at how good the results were, so we decided to write them up and submit a paper to Nature Scientific Reports,” Tame explains. The paper, titled “Demonstration of Shor’s factoring algorithm for N=21 on IBM quantum processors,” was published on 16 August 2021.
Tame says he started experimenting with IBM’s quantum processors in 2019 and he has recently incorporated the use of IBM quantum processors into his BSc Honours lectures on quantum information.
Skosana is now tackling another challenging task: building a proof-of-concept small-scale quantum computer, based on the use of particles of light (called photons). He seems to be more than up to the task.