The scale of quantum computers is growing quickly. In 2022, IBM took the top spot with its 433-qubit Osprey chip. Yesterday, Atom Computing announced they’ve one-upped IBM with a 1,180-qubit neutral atom quantum computer.

The new machine runs on a tiny grid of atoms held in place and manipulated by lasers in a vacuum chamber. The company’s first 100-qubit prototype was a 10-by-10 grid of strontium atoms. The new system is a 35-by-35 grid of ytterbium atoms (shown above). (The machine has space for 1,225 atoms, but Atom has so far run tests with 1,180.)

Quantum computing researchers are working on a range of qubits—the quantum equivalent of bits represented by transistors in traditional computing—including tiny superconducting loops of wire (Google and IBM), trapped ions (IonQ), and photons, among others. But Atom Computing and other companies, like QuEra, believe neutral atoms—that is, atoms with no electric charge—have greater potential to scale.

This is because neutral atoms can maintain their quantum state longer, and they’re naturally abundant and identical. Superconducting qubits are more susceptible to noise and manufacturing flaws. Neutral atoms can also be packed more tightly into the same space as they have no charge that might interfere with neighbors and can be controlled wirelessly. And neutral atoms allow for a room-temperature set-up, as opposed to the near-absolute zero temperatures required by other quantum computers.

The company may be onto something. They’ve now increased the number of qubits in their machine by an order of magnitude in just two years, and believe they can go further. In a video explaining the technology, Atom CEO Rob Hays says they see “a path to scale to millions of qubits in less than a cubic centimeter.”

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