Written by Sarah McCormack, Zsolt G. Pataki, and Nera Kuljanic,
It is thought that quantum technologies will lead a new wave of revolutionary developments in Europe. With the Quantum Manifesto due to be officially released in May 2016 with wide-ranging EU backing, now is a good time to investigate the challenges facing quantum technologies and how far the EU has come in tackling them.
The Science and Technology Options Assessment (STOA) Panel, represented by its Chair Paul Rübig, First Vice-Chair Eva Kaili and Panel member Cora van Nieuwenhuizen, hosted a workshop on 6 April 2016 to examine the opportunities for European economy and society made possible by further research and development in quantum technologies. Close to €500 million in EU funding is being invested in research in quantum technologies. According to Günther Oettinger, EU Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, Europe is in a position to be proud of its achievements in this field – some of the leading experts are European.
From the first to the second quantum revolution
Professor Alain Aspect from the Institut d’Optique Graduate School outlined the main developments in quantum technology over the past century. He explained that the first quantum revolution commenced in the early decades of the 20th century and the process to take early concepts to demonstrated technologies was a long one. Wave-particle duality allowed better understanding of the structure of matter (atoms, chemical bonds) and this discovery was crucial in the development of new inventions such as lasers, optical fibres, transistors and integrated circuits, all of which occurred during the first quantum revolution. These discoveries and inventions owe a lot to the work of European scientists such as Curie, Bohr, Planck, Schrödinger and Einstein. Professor Aspect is of the opinion that we are now in the middle of the second quantum revolution, one which holds many promises for the future, such as revolutions in information and processing, and the deployment of new technologies. The second quantum revolution will feature totally new concepts.
The promises of quantum technologies
Henk Kamp, Dutch Minister for Economic Affairs, explained that quantum technologies could help solve some of the key issues Europe faces today. For example, the development of quantum cryptography has the potential to make unbreakable codes available, enabling levels of data protection that is unthinkable today.
Paolo Bianco, from Airbus, highlighted the opportunities quantum technologies bring to industry, especially in relation to new materials, quantum sensors, and navigation. Quantum computing will also optimise both design and operation. For Mr Bianco, quantum technologies have the potential to improve our current technologies, to change the way we operate, work, think, and live today.
Quantum technology will be a game changer for computational power, secure internet and energy savings, Professor Leo Kouwenhoven, from QuTech, noted. Existing IT systems consume vast amounts of energy. Quantum computing promises to save energy to a factor of 1019, the resulting reduction in energy usage and increased energy efficiency will help to better protect the environment. It can also help in the handling of big data for sequencing genomes and in drug development by solving quantum chemistry problems. Other impacts that have not yet been predicted are likely.
Can Europe take the lead?
The panellists agreed that time was of the essence and that Europe needs to act now to benefit from these technologies, they also made some practical suggestions as to how Europe can advance with quantum technologies.
Alongside strong involvement and support from European institutions, more industries need to take up quantum technologies and develop them further, so that their potential can be better exploited, said Professor Aspect. Furthermore, Trevor Cross, from e2V stressed that support for the innovation process is required to take science from the laboratory to practical demonstrations. Cooperation between industry and academia needs to be encouraged and funded, also the legal barriers causing delays and gaps between the two need to be addressed, was the opinion of Professor Kai Bongs, from the UK National Quantum Technology Hub in Sensors and Metrology. This was echoed by Cora Van Nieuwenhuizen, who added politicians to the equation, urging them to keep a close eye on developments, which would help them to understand and support the process. Professor Tommaso Calarco, from Integrated Quantum Science and Technology, agreed that policy-makers need to be kept informed about the benefits of quantum technology.
Closing the event, Vladimir Šucha, Director-General of the EC’s Joint Research Centre, highlighted how Europe’s past record of seizing opportunities for the development of new and disruptive technologies has not been optimal, and called for political and industrial courage in order to progress. Eva Kaili concluded that comprehensive European synergy for quantum research and innovation was needed for genuine advancement in the field.