New quantum revolution offers opportunities for Dutch business
Quantum technology is a key technology that enables new products and services. Quantum computers, quantum simulators, quantum networks and quantum sensors will soon be able to do things that their ‘traditional’ predecessors cannot. We therefore find ourselves on the eve of a technological revolution that can contribute to solving all kinds of societal challenges.
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At the start of the 20th century, leading physicists such as Einstein, Bohr, Schrödinger and Heisenberg developed quantum theory in response to research results that could not be explained through the theories of the time. This theory describes the behaviour of energy and matter at the atomic level and led to the ‘first quantum revolution’ in the second half of the 20th century. This in turn has led to pioneering technologies such as the transistor, solid-state lighting, lasers and GPS.
THE SECOND QUANTUM REVOLUTION
Now, more than 100 years later, quantum technology forms the basis of a ‘second quantum revolution’ in which previously unexploited quantum effects will be applied in all kinds of devices. Knowledge institutions and companies are working hard to deal with the technological challenges involved and to translate quantum technology into concrete applications. As a co-founder of QuTech, TNO is convinced that this offers opportunities for Dutch business and the chance to solve societal challenges.
KEY PRINCIPLES – HOW DOES IT WORK?
Two important but hard-to-comprehend principles of quantum mechanics – entanglement and superposition – form the basis for the second quantum revolution.
- Superposition: a quantum particle can find itself in a combination of several states simultaneously, i.e. it can be in several places at the same time. Only when we carry out a measurement do we establish a position. This is therefore different to a coin, for which we know that either heads or tails will be facing upwards but not a combination of both that only results in a determination of ‘heads’ or ‘tails’ when we look at the coin.
- Entanglement: together, two or more quantum particles (e.g. photons or electrons) can form, as it were, one system in which they appear to be connected to one another by an invisible bond. When two particles are entangled, a measurement of the state of one particle provides instantaneous information about the state of the other particle, even if the particles are at a great distance from one another. It seems as though they are communicating and exchanging information with one another instantaneously, i.e. faster than light.
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Quantum computers – solving complex calcutions
We can make use of this special behaviour of small quantum particles, such as with the quantum computer. A traditional computer calculates using bits (units of digital information), which can have a value of 0 or 1. Quantum bits (qubits) of a quantum computer can be 0 and 1 simultaneously. Qubits can therefore be in a collective superposition of all possible states. This gives quantum computers an enormous processing speed. This is because all of the options are tested at once rather than one by one, such as when finding the route through a maze. As a result, quantum computers have the potential to solve certain complex problems that are practically unsolvable for traditional computers, as the calculations could take centuries using these. A universal quantum computer will be a very complex system, which requires an integral system design for the hardware and control software. TNO and TU Delft acknowledge this challenge and are building a prototype quantum computer. TNO’s experience in system design for EUV lithography and satellite instruments will be applied. The quantum computer platform Quantum Inspire (QI) gives users a variety of technologies with which to perform quantum calculations.
Quation simulation – simulating complex systems
A quantum simulator is in fact a quantum computer with one specific application, i.e. a ‘special-purpose quantum computer’. Such quantum simulators offer the possibility of solving problems in solid-state physics, quantum chemistry, materials science and high-energy physics. Thanks to the quantum mechanical interactions (based on superposition or entanglement) between the atoms, electrons or photons, these systems can simulate other complex quantum systems. TNO is developing this type of quantum simulator with partners. Both quantum simulators, quantum computers and quantum communication systems require high-quality nano devices, which are manufactured and optimized in TNO cleanrooms.
Quatum communication – secure data connections
In quantum communication, the principle of entanglement plays an important role. Qubits can be entangled with one another, which makes it possible to establish correlations between the quantum states of different particles over large distances. Additionally, qubits cannot be copied while maintaining superposition. As a result, any attempt to intercept qubits will be detected, potentially making quantum communication extremely safe. Within the QuTech research center, TNO is working on the modelling, simulation and integration of quantum networks and is investigating the various application possibilities. In addition to this, TNO is also involved in designing and fabrication of advanced optical systems in future quantum networks like quantum memory and frequency conververs. Together with partners operation in the space industry, TNO is investigating the possibilities of quantum communication with and between satellites.
Quantum sensing – high-quality measurements
Quantum sensors can detect changes in temperature, radiation, acceleration, time and electrical or magnetic fields. These sensors distinguish themselves from traditional sensors through their high sensitivity and resolution. This makes it possible, for example, to measure extremely small structures such as DNA. The first systems that use quantum sensors are now available. In the long run, better navigation systems, radar systems and medical detection techniques will come within reach thanks to continuous developments. TNO is also involved in this and is exploring the possibilities of developing quantum sensors for the high-tech mechanical engineering and semiconductor industries, where metrology is a major challenge.
Strengthening the leading position of the Netherlands
Quantum technology holds great promise for society, industry and science. In order to fulfil this promise, the National Quantum Technology Agenda (NAQT) has been established to maintain the position of the Netherlands as a frontrunner and pioneer in the development of quantum technology and to further strengthen it as an international knowledge and innovation hub for quantum technology. As one of the founders of QuTech, TNO was able to contribute to NAQT. QuTech is a centre of expertise that focuses, in collaboration with companies, on scientific challenges and technical problems in the field of quantum computing and quantum internet.
Link with other roadmaps and expertise groups
Activities relating to quantum technology are centred in QuTech, a well known research center dedicated to quantum research. Within TNO activities are gathered in the Semiconductor roadmap within TNO’s Industry unit, but also serve other roadmaps such as Space & Scientific Instrumentation and the Defence & Security and Industry units.
Various expertise groups within TNO also contribute to quantum developments:
- The Quantum Technology group focuses on the design and manufacture of quantum devices and systems that use them;
- The Cyber Security & Robustness (CSR) group, which has a strong focus on algorithm developments (for quantum computing and quantum communication);
- The Radar Technology group, which uses quantum sensing for defence applications.