We’re headed towards the next quantum revolution. As the first applications leap out of research laboratories towards commercialization, the global race for dominance in this maturing field is becoming ever fiercer. While leading economic powerhouses like the United States, China and Japan are increasing their scientific and financial involvement in quantum technologies, Europe is drafting a coordinated effort to retain its long-time edge. But will the new €1 billion flagship project initiative of the European Commission keep us in the driving seat?
Quantum physics was created in Europe in the first decades of the twentieth century by a generation of young physicists who are now familiar names: Bohr, Planck, Einstein, Heisenberg, Schrödinger, Pauli, Dirac, Curie, De Broglie and others. It has fundamentally changed our understanding of how light and matter behave at extremely small scales. It has also deeply impacted our daily life: breakthrough technologies resulting from this first quantum revolution were, for example, the transistor and the laser, without which current computers, mobile phones and the Internet would be unthinkable.
One hundred years on, superposition (showing that objects can be in different states at the same time) and entanglement (that these can be deeply connected without any direct physical interaction) have proven to be some of the most ground-breaking concepts in physics. Now our ability to use previously untapped quantum effects in customised systems and materials is paving the way for a second quantum revolution. This will add a new stage to the already staggering impact of conventional information and communication technologies, by providing a novel and fresh conceptual platform within which a family of next-generation disruptive technologies, varying from products with a relatively short time to market to revolutionary new technologies that may require more than a decade of research, can be conceived, developed, tested and commercialized.
Quantum research in Europe reached a watershed moment in Spring 2016, marking the publication of the Quantum Manifesto, endorsed by over 3500 stakeholders from a broad community of industries, research institutes and scientists in Europe. It urged Member States and the European Commission (EC) to start a major joint initiative in the field of QT. The call of the quantum community didn’t have to wait for long to be answered, as soon thereafter the EC proposed the launch of the QT Flagship, a pioneering scientific endeavour with a vast €1bn funding.
The EC appointed an independent High-Level Steering Committee (HLSC), consisting of 12 distinguished Academic Members and 12 high-ranking Industry Members to prepare the QT Flagship. The main tasks of the HLSC are to deliver a Strategic Research Agenda, including a long-term scientific roadmap; an Implementation Model, describing measures to turn the strategy into action; a Governance Model, providing structural framework for the success of the QT Flagship. The initial set of recommendations are contained in the Intermediate Report of the HLSC, presented in Malta. The Final Report will be published in Autumn 2017.
The initiative aims to place Europe at the forefront of the second quantum revolution now unfolding worldwide, bringing transformative advances to science, industry and society. It will create new commercial opportunities addressing global challenges, provide strategic capabilities for security and seed yet unimagined applications for the future. In the past, Europe has missed the opportunity to capitalize on some revolutionary technology trends (e.g. digital platforms); this could well happen again if Europe does not take decisive action now. Developing Europe’s capabilities in QT will help create a lucrative knowledge-based industry, leading to long-term economic, scientific and societal benefits.
The far horizon is a “Quantum Web”: quantum computers, simulators and sensors interconnected via quantum networks distributing information and quantum resources such as coherence and entanglement. On the corresponding time scale – which is in fact longer than the flagship’s expected duration of ten years – the performance enhancements resulting from quantum technologies will yield unprecedented computing power, guarantee data privacy and communication security, and provide ultra-high precision synchronization, measurements and diagnostics for a range of applications available to everyone locally and in the cloud.
To work towards these goals, the QT flagship will be structured around four research and innovation domains representing the major applied areas in the field: Communication, Computation, Simulation, as well as Sensing and Metrology. These application domains should be built on top of a common basis of Basic Science, with top research institutions and companies spread across Europe assisting the application domains’ mission-driven objectives by delivering novel ideas, tools, components, materials, methods and processes.
Key to the initiative’s added value is its pan-European dimension. This would allow an optimal integration of the diverse expertise of academic and industry partners across Europe, promote international collaboration, exchange and networking of people and information, integrate national and European metrological and standardisation institutes in developing quantum-based standards, and, finally, align existing Member States strategies and activities ensuring that funding is spent in the most efficient way at all levels, regional, national and international.
Preparatory actions should already take place in 2017/2018, to have the first Flagship-funded projects start in 2019. Training successful “quantum engineers” and more in general a quantum-aware workforce should also be a central objective of the QT program; in addition, further measures are recommended to create better market transparency, to stimulate and support quantum start-ups and to reach out to the public, to raise awareness about quantum technologies’ opportunities.
Currently Europe is still at the leading edge in quantum technologies worldwide. According to McKinsey’s data, over 50 percent of academic papers in the field come from European scholars. However, a global race for technology and talent has started to profit from the promising future of quantum applications. As governments and companies worldwide, including Google, IBM, Intel, Microsoft and Toshiba, are investing substantially to unleash the QT potential, there is a strong urgency for Europe to start fast with focused and consolidated efforts to keep up with global developments. To remain at the forefront and take a strategic lead, the implementation of the QT initiative needs to start as early as possible.
Prof. Dr. Jürgen Mlynek
Chairman of the High-Level Steering Committee of the QT Flagship
Chairman of the Board of Trustees at the Falling Walls Foundation
Jürgen Mlynek’s main fields of research are experimental quantum optics and atomic physics. He served as Vice-President of the German Research Foundation (DFG) and later as President of the Humboldt University of Berlin. From 2005 until 2015, he was President of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers, the largest research organization in Germany.
You may download the Intermediate Report via the following link: