Europe's quantum bet

Tommaso Calarco

Manipulating individual atoms opens up huge opportunities for innovation

30 May 2017

Quantum mechanics is centre-stage in European research, with €1bn set to be invested by the European Commission in a new flagship initiative. Prof. Tommaso Calarco, from the Center for Integrated Quantum Science and Technology of the University of Ulm, in Germany, is among the authors of the Quantum Manifesto, a 20 page document which urges Europe to take action in the field of quantum science.

“We, as the quantum science community of Europe are of course delighted that the European Commission has been responsive to our call,” he says, “We feel that with substantial backing and joint efforts Europe-wide, the work carried out across institutes, laboratories and also companies, could really have an impact on our society.”

The Quantum Manifesto uses surprisingly simple language and features a clear roadmap. “Quantum science is much closer to home that people imagine,” adds Calarco, “Even now, when you send a chat message or publish a post on Facebook, you’re actually riding on the first quantum revolution. The theoretical advances of the early 20th century, made it possible for industry to deliver a first wave of semiconductor technologies in the Fifties and Sixties. We are now in the middle of the second quantum revolution”.

The Quantum Manifesto covers several fields of application, from credit cards and healthcare, to materials. “One of the things that quantum science allows us to do is to multiply and accelerate the pace of calculation or simulation,” explains Calarco, “In one of our current research projects, we are trying to manipulate individual atoms, as well as systems built out of them, to simulate the behaviour of fairly complex systems, such as magnetic materials.”

“The same approach could be applied to healthcare on simulating how a given molecule could react under certain conditions. More generally, the number of sectors where we could harvest such potential is huge, from chemistry and developing drugs, to increased security, well beyond the levels reached by the current knowledge in cryptography. It goes without saying that to achieve a sufficient capacity of simulation, of the scale we have in mind, we’ll need to rely on a much stronger calculation power than we have today.”

Calarco is collaborating with the Rysq project, supported by the EU 7th Framework Programme Future and Emerging Technologies (FET). Sixteen European research institutes are building a simulator working with the so-called Rydberg atoms.

These atoms are excited into very high energy levels and become extremely responsive to electric and magnetic fields. Because of these characteristics, they hold a huge potential to be used in quantum simulations.

By Giuseppe Saija