National Physical Laboratory

Driving innovation in quantum industries and taking a leap forward in quantum computing

New reports published by the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) show how advances in measurement science are critical to success of Britain's quantum industries

Measurement science is a vital driver of innovation in quantum technologies, as outlined in two new reports published by NPL's Quantum Metrology Institute (QMI): How measurement is driving innovation in the emerging quantum industry and Opportunities for superconducting quantum technology in the UK.

Enabling scale-up of quantum computing circuits by reducing charge noise

Quantum technologies are based on the surprising properties of single atoms, electrons and photons. At the quantum scale, particles follow different rules to human-scale objects. Of major interest are 'superposition' whereby particles exist in two states simultaneously; and 'entanglement', whereby changing the state of one particle simultaneously induces change in another. Long restricted to theoretical physics, these quantum phenomena are now being harnessed for a new generation of technologies.

For quantum technologies to become commercially viable, innovators need reliable tools to measure and detect quantum states of particles, including for applications such as quantum computing, secure communications, timing and navigation, and sensors that detect heartbeats and brainwaves.

How measurement is driving innovation in quantum

The How measurement is driving innovation in the emerging quantum industry report discusses the scientific and technological successes of the UK quantum measurement community in supporting these industries, since the QMI was established in 2015 at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL).

Highlights outlined in the report, include:

  • Developing cold-ion microtraps, a scalable, chip-size technology which traps particles able to encode quantum states to create 'qubits'. These microtraps are a strong candidate for use in ultra-fast quantum computers.
  • Supporting commercialisation of Quantum Key Distribution (QKD), a potentially ultra-secure communications method. Here, a key is encoded into properties of light which can be used to decrypt a message.
  • Developing the MINAC Miniature Atomic Clock, a portable atomic clock which brings accurate timing to many new applications, such as for reliable energy supply, transport, mobile communications, data networks and electronic financial transactions.
  • Creating atomic magnetometers, which could be used as quantum sensors to detect brain waves, heart arrhythmia, explosive residue, and corrosion.

Many projects involve close collaboration with UK business and academia. Work covers both the fundamental research that will underpin technologies still a decade away, such as quantum computing; through to industry collaborations on close-to-market technologies, such as QKD with BT and Toshiba, and MINAC with Teledyne e2v.

Rhys Lewis, Director of the QMI, launched the report at the National Quantum Technologies Showcase, saying: "Measurement bridges the gap between research and commercial exploitation. For companies to innovate in quantum technology, they need to understand and define the properties of the systems they are developing. To develop saleable products, they need to provide verified evidence that the technology is built on sound scientific and engineering principles, and that it will perform as described.

"As today's report shows, the QMI is developing the quantum measurement infrastructure to independently test, measure and validate new innovations. We will be a partner to the innovators that emerge in the quantum industry. We will conduct research that underpins quantum innovations, we will train quantum scientists, and we will develop capabilities and facilities as required to address changing measurement needs.

"In doing so, the advances from the UK measurement community will unblock routes to commercialisation, helping UK industry develop quantum technologies which drive UK economic growth."

Taking a leap forward in quantum computing

The Opportunities for superconducting quantum technology in the UK report, coordinated by the superconducting quantum computing team at NPL, summarises NPL's view of the opportunities for superconducting quantum computing (SQC) and the real-life problems that this technology is likely to be able to tackle in the short term and over a longer perspective.

In particular the report outlined five key challenges that will need to be solved in order to build such a system. These revolve around:

  • Coherence times of individual qubits needing to be increased
  • Reproducibility in the fabrication process is still a major issue
  • Fabrication for vertical integration
  • Development of reliable algorithms and schemes for controlling ~100–200 qubits
  • Large scale FPGA/control electronics

The report also analyses the scientific and engineering expertise, specialist facilities, and other resources for SQC readily available in the UK and those we are missing. Based on this analysis the paper makes a projection of what the country could realistically achieve in a space race for quantum computing capability in different investment scenarios.

The global race is now on to be the first country to harness the power of quantum computers, computers that have the potential to operate millions of times faster than today's most advanced supercomputers.

Quantum supremacy – when a quantum computer will be able to solve a problem faster than the most advanced conventional super computer is in sight. This could unlock enormous new opportunities across major industries, from healthcare, defence, communications, financial services, transportation and everything else in between.

The Committee on Science, Space and Technology of the US House of Representatives in a statement on Sep 13, 2018 wrote: "Global leadership in quantum computing brings with it a military and intelligence edge as well as a competitive advantage in what many expect to be a massive industry in the decades to come."

Trapped ion and superconducting qubits are the two leading technology platforms under development for implementing a large scale quantum computer. The National Quantum Technologies Programme has focused on development through ion-traps, but other countries have also invested into superconducting qubits. Superconducting quantum technology is maturing quickly, developing at a faster rate than could have been predicted.

Rhys Lewis, said: "NPL is pleased to be releasing a report 'Opportunities for superconducting quantum technology in the UK'. The report makes the case for a coordination of expertise and facilities to support the delivery of superconducting quantum computing capability within the UK."

Draft versions of this report have been circulated to support the government's consideration of the approach to take towards quantum computing and the case for investment.

Rhys continued: "We were delighted to hear, at the quantum showcase 2018, the announcement of £75million to support a new national quantum computing centre."

NPL is proud to be part of the National Quantum Technologies Programme (NQTP), participating in collaborative R&D projects with industry and academia as well as developing and providing integral testing and verification services for the sector."

Find out more about the work NPL is doing within the Quantum Metrology Institute

Last Updated: 12 Nov 2018
Created: 12 Nov 2018

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