The U.S. government has its eyes on “cryogenically cooled circuitry for tomorrow’s exascale computers,” reported Spectrum.IEEE.org, a dream over 50 years old.
An electrical engineer of the NSA, Dudley Buck, “reported on his own work” in the 1950’s about a “novel superconducting switch he named the cryotron,” according to Spectrum IEEE, and said that “the device works by switching a material between its superconducting state—where electrons couple up and flow as a “supercurrent,” with no resistance at all—and its normal state, where electrons flow with some resistance.”
Spectrum IEEE confirmed that “with new forms of superconducting logic and memory in development, IARPA has launched an ambitious program to create the fundamental building blocks of a superconducting supercomputer. In the next few years, the effort could finally show whether the technology really can beat silicon when given the chance.”
In 2013 Marc Manheimer, head of quantum computing at NSA’s Laboratory for Physical Sciences, had “convinced IARPA to fund a multisite industrial and academic R&D program, dubbed the Cryogenic Computing Complexity (C3) program, [and] moved to IARPA to lead it” along with Northrop Grumman Corp. and Hypres, according to Spectrum IEEE.
“For now, C3’s focus is on the fundamental components. This first phase, which will run through 2017, aims to demonstrate core components of a computer system: a set of key 64-bit logic circuits capable of running at a 10-GHz clock rate and cryogenic memory arrays with capacities up to about 250 megabytes. If this effort is successful, a second, two-year phase will integrate these components into a working cryogenic computer of as-yet-unspecified size. If that prototype is deemed promising, Manheimer estimates it should be possible to create a true superconducting supercomputer in another 5 to 10 years,” reported Spectrum IEEE.
Things seem a lot more promising now than they did 60 years ago. Manheimer said “supplying the refrigeration is now a trivial matter […] thanks in part to the multibillion-dollar industry based on magnetic resonance imaging machines, which rely on superconducting electromagnets and high-quality cryogenic refrigerators.”
The amount of energy needed for cooling may not be a big problem either, considering “the power dissipated in a superconducting computer is so small that it remains 100 times more efficient than a comparable silicon computer, even after taking into account the present inefficient cryocooler,” wrote Elie Track and Alan Kadin of the IEEE’s Rebooting Computing initiative.
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