Updated: Aug 10, 2020
Get ready for the quantum leap! by Eddie Ross
Science Minister, Chris Skidmore, announced a further £94 million funding for the UK’s National Quantum Technologies Programme (NQTP) in July 2019. Here, we explore what the programme is and why we should care about quantum technology in society. Our understanding of matter has advanced with time. The dawn of quantum mechanics, in the early 20th century, provided a mathematical description with which to understand the properties of atoms and seek to exploit them. We are now close to harnessing atoms to produce devices that have exciting new applications, with the potential to advance society as we know it. The UK government announced an investment of £270 million into the first phase of the NQTP in Autumn 2013. The intention: accelerate the development of quantum technologies in the UK. The ambition is to translate laboratory-based research into marketable quantum technology products, to solidify the UK as an international leader in quantum technology. Four Quantum Technology hubs have been developed under the NQTP. The Quantum Enhanced Imaging hub (QuantIC), led by the University of Glasgow, seeks to create a light source with a noise below the current shot noise limit, to improve the capabilities of high-precision optical measurements. They are also developing cameras to see around corners and visualise light propagating in real time, which will allow us to capture images in extremely low light and visualise objects behind opaque materials. The Networked Quantum Information Technologies Hub (NQIT), led by the University of Oxford, is principally concerned with using atoms as processors (i.e. quantum computers) and light (photons) as a means to transport the information between the atoms. Quantum computing will improve processing speed and accuracy, which has endless possibilities in a society that relies so much on computational power.
The Quantum Communications Technologies hub is led by the University of York. The main aim of this hub is to develop quantum secure communications technologies, enabling their widespread use and adoption in society, and promising a more secure communications infrastructure. The final hub, the Sensors and Metrology hub, is led by the University of Birmingham. Remarkably, the technology developed in the hub for sensors and metrology (the study of measurement) relies on the manipulation of atoms using electromagnetic fields and light, to cool them down to temperatures in the region of a micro-Kelvin; arguably the coldest temperatures ever attained by mankind. The Sensors and Metrology hub intends to develop ultra-precise sensors, which can measure acceleration and magnetic fields better than their classical counterparts. Applications include improving our ability to detect underground objects, improving the efficiency of ground works and monitoring of groundwater. In addition, the hub intends to output a new generation of atomic clock with orders of magnitude improvement in their precision and stability, which will have widespread use in the financial, energy, and communications sectors. The industrialisation of the research has been successful since the NTQP began, with several quantum devices already created. This new phase of the NQTP will start to further industrialise the technologies and get them out to market. Watch out, society – get ready for the quantum leap!
From Issue 19