On a quantum quest: Europe’s journey towards technological innovation

Sponsored by: QuantERA
15 Apr 2024 | News

Amidst the quantum revolution sweeping the globe, European researchers emerge as frontrunners, driven by the investment of the QuantERA research funding programme

Conference on Quantum Technologies in Europe, Madrid, 2023. Photo: Antonio Marcos

14th April marks World Quantum Day – an annual celebration dedicated to spreading awareness about quantum technologies (QT). Scientists predict that within a decade these technologies will significantly improve our daily lives. From expedited and precise medical diagnostics to unparalleled data security in networks to the development of new materials boasting revolutionary properties, the scope of possibilities is vast.

The global landscape of quantum technologies is experiencing rapid expansion, with Europe positioning itself ambitiously as a frontrunner in this burgeoning area. Backed by strategic initiatives, such as QuantERA and the Quantum Flagship, the European Union aspires to take the lead as the world’s first quantum valley, primed to unlock the full potential of quantum science and technology.

Fostering new ideas in Europe

Europe remains steadfast in its commitment to advancing QT through initiatives such as QuantERA, the EU’s largest funding scheme supporting quantum science and innovation. It subsidises ambitious research at the forefront of quantum engineering while also actively monitoring the field’s developments and creating guidelines for responsible research conduct. With over 100 funded international projects, involving nearly 550 research groups, QuantERA stands as a living testament to Europe’s dedication to quantum advancements. “Many groundbreaking ideas and concepts in quantum technologies have emerged on our continent,” notes Prof Konrad Banaszek, the scientific coordinator of the QuantERA Network. QuantERA is bolstered up by the Quantum Flagship – the most important undertaking in the quantum domain in Europe. Spearheaded by the European Commission, it hopes to secure Europe’s leadership role in the development of QT, having recently unveiled its 2030 agenda, which envisions the EU as the global hub for the quantum revolution.

Pushing the boundaries

The latest QuantERA Call, concluded at the end of 2023, saw a wave of pioneering research proposals that pushed the very boundaries of quantum physics. Among the standout projects were scientific endeavours exploring quantum imaging, research on quantum sensors based on colour centres, and experiments on quantum dot single-photon sources, all garnering high acclaim.

One such project, “QISS·ME,” is led by Mariana Ramos from the AIT Austrian Institute of Technology. In collaboration with scientists from Germany and Israel, Dr Ramos works on secure datacentre communication, integrating Quantum Key Distribution to deliver cost-effective, interception-resistant data encryption by leveraging silicon photonic integration technology to achieve compact and secure communication links. This innovative approach not only enhances datacentre security but also facilitates seamless integration with existing infrastructure, paving the way for widespread adoption across various use cases. “Quantum physics has granted us profound insights into the workings of nature,” observes Ramos. “QT will now harvest these results by unlocking unprecedented capabilities with practical implications. From quantum computing’s potential to solve complex problems exponentially faster than classical supercomputers to quantum cryptography’s unbreakable security protocols and sensing, these advancements are reshaping fields like medicine, military industries, and finance. The impact of quantum technologies extends far beyond theory, heralding a new era of innovation – a future where the seemingly impossible becomes achievable.”

Meanwhile, Prof Adam Wojciechowski from the Jagiellonian University in Kraków leads another promising endeavour. Cooperating with scientists from Germany and Spain on “AQuSeND,” a project with significant biomedical implications, he plans to develop new quantum detection protocols employing nanodiamonds. “Our objective is to enhance the material properties of nanodiamonds and introduce advanced measurement techniques to obtain detailed information about their surrounding environment,” explains Wojciechowski, hinting at the progress made by the scientific community in showcasing quantum advantages. “Ultimately, our goal is to embed those nanodiamonds into biological cells and measure signals related to the presence of specific substances delivered to the cells.”

vacuum system
 A vacuum system, partially enclosed by a magnetic shield, utilises multiple laser beams to cool and probe the atoms. Positioned to the right, a scientific CMOS camera captures images of atomic density for detailed analysis. Photo: Krzysztof Magda

Europe’s quantum leap into the future

The QuantERA Network’s report Quantum Technologies Public Policies, 2023 testifies to the growing acknowledgement among individual European countries of the transformative power of quantum technologies, noting their heavy investments geared towards gaining a strategic advantage. Notably, just three years prior, only a few of the 29 countries in the Network had dedicated national programmes for the development of these technologies. Today, however, the majority of European countries have well-defined research agendas and innovation priorities. Moreover, Austria, Denmark, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland have emerged as frontrunners in the field by allocating substantial national funds for advancing quantum science, further emphasising their commitment to secure a competitive edge in this burgeoning domain.

Central and Eastern European countries are also making significant strides in this area. Hungary has embarked on its second national programme dedicated to QT, signalling a deepening commitment to the quantum exploration. Meanwhile, Slovakia has established the QUTE, Slovak National Centre for Quantum Technologies, with the aim of preparing the nation for the imminent approach of the quantum industry. Similarly, Latvia has formulated a national strategy and instituted the Latvian Quantum Initiative, successfully uniting specialists in the realm of quantum science and technology.

Knowledge across borders

Prof Banaszek emphasises “the abundance of promising research endeavours underway” across our continent, advocating for their “parallel support.” In that regard, QuantERA stands as a direct facilitator, incentivising collaboration among European scientists and fostering partnerships between countries participating in the programme. Prof Katarzyna Roszak from the Institute of Physics of the Czech Academy of Sciences highlights how the principles adopted by the Network facilitate the formation of consortia composed of scientists from lesser-known institutions, often including early-career researchers. “This approach to team building serves to improve the quality of research, allowing less conventional directions to be developed, which can in turn lead to significant discoveries,” she remarks.

At the stage of substantive evaluation of applications submitted in the QuantERA Calls, emphasis is placed solely on their scientific merit. However, in cases where two or three projects receive equally high ratings, priority is given to the one involving researchers from the countries where the level of research and innovation is lower than the EU average – the so-called “widening countries.” This strategic approach ensures equitable funding distribution and promotes scientific excellence across all participating nations. “Strengthening scientific excellence in the widening countries is crucial for fostering a Europe without borders and gaps. Spreading of excellence across the entire European Research Area should play a major role in evaluating the long-term impact of individual funding programmes,” adds Prof Ticijana Ban from the Institute of Physics in Zagreb.

QuantERA, uniting 41 research funding agencies from 31 countries, remains committed to the development of QT in Europe. Representatives of the Network, alongside the European Commission, are already laying the groundwork for the programme’s continuation, reaffirming their dedication to advancing quantum research across Europe.

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