Photo: Bertelsmann Stiftung website.
Quantum technology is developing rapidly and is expected to become a key technology in areas such as health, energy, finance and defense. Sweden has strong research but is currently largely dependent on private funding. National coordination is now needed to be able to take advantage of the enormous opportunities.
It is called the second quantum revolution and is about, among other things, the development of quantum computers with far greater potential than classical computers, hypersensitive measurement methods and eavesdrop-proof communication. Quantum technology has an important role to play as an enabler for, among other things, energy efficiency - not least with today's urgent need for changed energy production and an unstable geopolitical situation.
In countries all over the world, quantum is seen as a key technology, which will affect large parts of society. Large investments are made both in the EU and in individual countries in Europe, North America, Asia and Australia.
One of the EU initiatives in quantum technology is "The European Quantum Communication Infrastructure” with the goal of building a secure infrastructure for data and communication across the EU. The financing consists of both EU funds and funding from the individual member states. These days, Vinnova makes decisions about funding a Swedish node led by KTH where several Swedish universities and companies collaborate.
Sweden is far ahead in quantum technology research
Sweden also has strong broader research in quantum technology, mainly thanks to the large investment at Wallenberg Centre for Quantum Technology, WACQT. However, this is private and has time-limited funding from the Knut and Alice Wallenbergs foundation (KAW). Correspondingly larger funding is also not available when it comes to education and innovation in quantum technology. Therefore, a well-financed national quantum strategy is needed that can help coordinate resources, prioritize investments and adapt research efforts.
-We are now starting to get the tools to be able to control quantum systems and thereby exploit inherent quantum physical phenomena. It is a very rapid development. The time is ripe to start using these commercially and in society, and a national strategy and funding is needed that coordinates all aspects of the development, says Per Delsing, professor of experimental physics at Chalmers and who leads the work with WACQT.
He describes it as that various applications of quantum technology, which will provide an increasing degree of impact in society, are on their way out into actual use. More niche areas of use, such as measuring technology in life science, are close to being put into use, while for example the quantum computer, which is believed to be able to revolutionize society, is a little further along.
Quantum technology has enormous potential in areas such as energy efficiency, security and health, and Sweden is far ahead in research.
At WACQT at Chalmers, a quantum computer is now being built that has 25 quantum bits and will start working this year. The goal is to scale it up to 40 quantum bits and then 100. In order to be able to do things that a classical computer cannot, such as super-fast optimization of complicated logistics problems, you need to reach more than 50-60 quantum bits, Per Delsing assesses.
In this way, Sweden's position in quantum technology can be strengthened
Vinnova, together with WACQT, Swelife and the Swedish Research Council, has produced the report A Swedish quantum agenda which identifies a number of development areas to strengthen Sweden's position in quantum technology. It includes the need to formulate a Swedish national strategy, coordination of all activities in the area, support for education and innovation and to ensure long-term financial support for quantum research.
- Quantum technology has enormous potential in areas such as energy efficiency, security and health, and Sweden is far ahead in research. Alongside academia, both established companies and start-ups already play an important role in development, but the efforts need to be coordinated. In order for Sweden to maintain its long-term competitiveness in quantum technology, we now need to build a national ecosystem for innovation and commercialization of the technology, says Darja Isaksson, director general at Vinnova.
Deep Light Vision in Lund is a start-up company that develops a commercial measuring instrument for oxygenation based on quantum technology. The research group behind the company aims to be able to use quantum structures to measure oxygenation in the anterior heart wall and in the brain. This could be used to diagnose strokes and be of great help in hospital emergency departments.
- Quantum technology is a promising new technology area and it is extremely important to raise the awareness of decision-makers, investors and the public. It is positive for start-ups to get all support we can so that Sweden does not fall behind in this area, which in the fairly near future may become very important for our economy, competitiveness and the development of society in general, says VD Johannes Swartling.
How does quantum technology actually work?
Quantum technology is based on quantum mechanics – the physics that describes the world at its smallest scale. The revolution lies in the relatively new ability to control and manipulate individual quantum systems, such as single atoms and light particles. This ability opens the door to completely new technology with great possibilities. Quantum technology is divided into four sub-areas:
- Quantum computers - have potential to perform calculations that a classical computer cannot, including solving difficult optimization problems, for example in logistics, DNA sequencing and machine learning.
- Quantum simulation - quantum simulations of complex molecules can help us develop new drugs, or catalysts. It can also help us design new materials.
- Quantum communication - uses entangled states to send messages that cannot be intercepted. In the longer perspective, a new internet built for quantum information, a quantum internet, is being discussed.
- Quantum sensors - can enable significantly more accurate measurements. Better atomic clocks used in GPS are one example, sensors for medical diagnostics are another.
This article was first published on 22 March by Vinnova.