What is quantum?

What is quantum?

The National Quantum Technologies showcase took place on 9 November, 2018 at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London. The fourth showcase event, organised by UK Research and Innovation’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), will demonstrate the technological progress arising from the national research programme, its relevance to commercial sectors and the collaborative nature of the programme involving academia, industry and government partners.

The emergence of new quantum technologies poses a major opportunity for the UK’s research and innovation sector, which boasts world-leading excellence in quantum science and related fields. Recent government funding announcements – of £235 million for the next phase of the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme and £80 million for the continuation of the UK’s Quantum Technologies Hubs – provide further support for the collaborative work being undertaken by academia and industry in this field.

The UK National Quantum Technologies Programme is aimed at accelerating the translation of quantum technologies into the marketplace, boosting British business and making a real difference to our everyday lives. The vision is to create a coherent quantum technology community that gives the UK a world-leading position in the emerging multi-billion-pound new quantum technology markets, and to substantially enhance the value of some of the biggest UK-based industries. The programme supports investments in research, innovation, skills and technology demonstration to help UK industry to commercialise these new technologies.

EPSRC works in collaboration with UKRI’s Innovate UK and other partners including the National Physical Laboratory and the National Network of Quantum Technology Hubs on the showcase.

Read more about the showcase on EPSRC's website.

Quantum - explained

Quantum mechanics, which explains the nature and behaviour of matter and energy at the smallest, subatomic level, was one of the biggest scientific breakthroughs of the 20th century. It has revealed the nature of electrons, protons, photons and other particles and improved our understanding of how light and matter behave at this level. From the microchips in our phones and computers to lasers, LEDs and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanners, quantum mechanics powers many of the world’s most widely-used and important technologies.

As more is understood about some of the subtler, stranger aspects of quantum science, new methods of harnessing its effects can be engineered which promise significant impact. These range from quantum computers, whose power would dwarf those of conventional computers, to unhackable quantum encryption methods and sensors that can allow for better monitoring of both the human brain and buried pipes.

The UK’s four Quantum Technology Hubs are developing new sensors to revolutionise fields from healthcare to navigation and archaeology; highly sensitive cameras which can see through smoke, around corners or under our skin; networked quantum information technology systems that will overshadow today’s supercomputers and be put to use accelerating drug development and analysing data; quantum communications technologies that can be used to encrypt communications, passwords and identification, and add new layers of security to financial transactions. A new National Quantum Computing Centre will also be established to develop the underlying technologies necessary to create the world’s first quantum computer.

Pioneer funding for quantum prototypes

Four projects have received funding through the quantum technologies pioneer fund to develop quantum-enabled prototype devices in two years. The projects will use the latest advances in quantum technology to develop prototype devices, and will receive a share of £20 million from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, delivered by UK Research and Innovation.

Projects will receive funding to develop quantum prototypes in four fields:

Surveying underground before you start digging

RSK will lead a project with a consortium of businesses and leading universities to use quantum sensors to detect objects underground. Initially, the technology will be used by road-working companies, but it could also be used in the rail network.

Precise timing

Manufacturer Teledyne e2V (UK) will lead a project to develop a pre-production prototype of a miniature atomic clock. It will enable services such as energy supply, transport and mobile communications to function in the event of disruption to the current standard timing service, Global Navigation Satellite Systems.

Secure encryption

Toshiba Research Europe will lead a project to develop the UK supply of low-cost integrated chips, which will enable more secure transmission of data using new encryption technologies.

Keeping data safe

Another encryption project will be led by ArQit. It will create advanced receivers to pick up quantum key signals. These keys are used to keep data safe, using quantum technology to let companies know if the data they are transmitting has been accessed.

Roger McKinlay, Challenge Director for Quantum Technologies at UK Research and Innovation said:

“The rise of quantum technologies will bring a huge impact on all our lives. In order to secure the UK lead in this area and make sure that companies based in the UK and UK jobs take a significant share of this opportunity, we must continue to work across industry, academia and government to achieve innovation.

“This is why the government’s investment of £20 million through these 4 successful Pioneer Challenge- funded project will put prototype quantum-enabled devices in to the hands of users.”

Read more on Innovate UK's website.