Removing leakage-induced correlated errors in superconducting quantum error correction
Quantum computing becomes scalable through error correction, but logical error rates only decrease with system size when physical errors are sufficiently uncorrelated. During computation, the unused high energy states of the qubits can become excited. In weakly nonlinear qubits, such as the superconducting transmon, these leakage states are long-lived and mobile, opening a path to errors that are correlated in space and time. The effects of leakage and its mitigation during quantum error correction remain an open question. Here, we report a reset protocol that returns a qubit to the ground state from all relevant higher level states. It requires no additional hardware and combines speed, fidelity, and resilience to noise. We test its performance with the bit-flip stabilizer code, a simplified version of the surface code scheme for quantum error correction. We investigate the accumulation and dynamics of leakage during the stabilizer codes. Using this protocol, we find lower rates of logical errors, and an improved scaling and stability of error suppression with qubits. This demonstration provides a key step on the path towards scalable quantum computing.