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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The startup IonQ today announced what it's calling "the world's most powerful quantum computer."

Why it matters: Quantum is the next frontier in computing, theoretically capable of solving problems beyond the ability of classical computers. IonQ's next-generation computer looks set to push the boundaries of quantum, but it will still take years before the technology becomes truly reliable.

How it works: IonQ reports its new quantum computer system has 32 "perfect" qubits — the basic unit of information in a quantum computer — that the company says gives it an expected quantum volume of more than 4,000,000.

  • Quantum volume is a metric that attempts to calculate the computing effectiveness of a quantum computer. These types of metrics are necessary because quantum computers are built in different ways and to different specifications.
  • "The way we achieved it is by having good fidelity in our qubits," says Peter Chapman, IonQ's president and CEO. "You can have a million qubits, but if your fidelity isn't good enough, it doesn't really matter."

Background: IonQ was co-founded by Chris Monroe, a University of Maryland professor and major figure in the development of quantum computers. In the mid-1990s, he began working on entangling atoms to make more precise atomic clocks, the most accurate timekeeping devices known.

  • IonQ's approach to quantum computing builds out of that research. It uses trapped ions in a way that Chapman says reduces the errors that qubits are prone to.

The catch: IonQ hasn't yet released detailed specifications of its new system, and its research needs to be verified.

  • That fact "puts me in a wait-and-see mode," Greg Kuperberg, a quantum computing expert at University of California-Davis, told Fortune.

Context: IonQ's announcement comes in the same week that its competitor Honeywell, which also use a version of trapped ions, reported achieving a quantum volume of 128, and the Canadian startup D-Wave announced a 5,000-qubit system built yet another way would that be available for customers, including via the cloud.

  • "We can solve interesting, useful problems" for customers, says Alan Baratz, D-Wave's president and CEO.

Be smart: Comparing different kinds of quantum computing systems is difficult because they function in fundamentally different ways.

  • But given that quantum computers tap the confounding principles of quantum physics, where qubits can be superposed in two different states at the same time, perhaps that makes a kind of sense.

Go deeper

What the 2020 election means for science

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The 2020 presidential election presents two stark paths for the direction of future-focused scientific research.

Why it matters: Science is a long game, with today's breakthroughs often stemming from research carried out decades ago, often with government help. That means the person who occupies the White House over the next four years will help shape the state of technology for decades into the future.

Jan. 6 panel subpoenas 2 far-right "America First" activists

The House panel investigating the Capitol riot, from left; Reps. Bennie Thompson, Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger and Jamie Raskin on Capitol Hill in December. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The House select committee investigating the Capitol riot issued subpoenas Wednesday for far-right leaders Nick Fuentes and Patrick Casey, who allegedly encouraged followers to go to D.C. and challenge the 2020 election results.

Why it matters: The action underscores the panel's increasing focus on rallies held ahead of the Capitol attack and how extremists were drawn to former President Trump's baseless claims of widespread voter fraud, per the New York Times.

Democrats fail to change Senate rules to pass voting rights bill

Senate Majority Leader during a news conference in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Democrats failed Wednesday night to change Senate filibuster rules to pass the voting rights bill, with Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) voting with Republicans.

The big picture: The failed effort came after Senate Republicans blocked the voting rights measure from coming to a final vote earlier Wednesday.

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