The State is to scale up its capacity to exploit the rapidly emerging field of quantum computing by setting up its first dedicated quantum computer engineering centre (QCEC) in Cork.
The multimillion-euro investment will see an additional 900 square metres of research space and the appointment of 45 researchers dedicated to advancing the technology at Tyndall National Institute (TNI), which is attached to UCC. There is a global race in progress to produce the first commercial desktop quantum computer.
“The next great leap in technology is quantum computing, which will have a huge impact on the future of the ICT industry and across many application areas. We are not on the cusp, but already in the process of the quantum revolution,” said TNI chief executive Prof William Scanlon.
Quantum computer engineering is dramatically enhancing computational power with the ability to solve problems that are too complex for today’s classical computers, he said at a virtual briefing to announce the project.
Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris said the QCEC marked “a really good day for Ireland’s research ecosystem” and for the country.
He added: “Tyndall is one of Europe’s leading institutes in ‘deep-tech’, and we have seen how the application of advanced technology has had a profound effect on the lives of citizens, as well as industry, through smart medical devices, high-speed telecommunications, robotics and automation, and the microelectronic chips that enable all of ICT.”
QCEC would not only focus on realisation of quantum technology in Ireland, but also upskill Irish researchers while supporting open innovation and collaboration between academia and industry, he noted.
“This will transform our high-tech economy and secure Ireland’s future as a worldwide technology leader, whilst supporting key Irish technology companies and SMEs,” he predicted.
Functioning quantum computers exist, and academia, governments and industry were investing in trying to develop more robust and scalable methods of realising the technology, “so it eventually surpasses today’s classical computers and will be accessible and impactful for the many and not just the few”, Prof Scanlon said.
‘Behind closed doors’
“Many organisations worldwide are working on quantum computing behind closed doors, but we are a country that has an open innovation ecosystem at its heart,” he added. “Most of the major tech companies and ICT innovators are based here, and we are experienced at bringing new technologies to market. We therefore have the people, the technology enablers and the industry partners to spearhead Ireland’s place in delivering the impact of the quantum revolution.”
As the national institute for ICT research, Tyndall has been at the forefront of quantum technology research in Ireland for 10 years and is already deploying quantum technology using deep-tech photonics and nano-electronics, while working on a range of ambitious projects with industry partners.
“Our aim is to accelerate development of quantum research in Ireland, connecting the theory to engineering and industry, to help address the world’s major societal challenges such as food security, energy, and climate change,” he said.
The potential for this technology was “phenomenal to the point of almost being unimaginable”, Prof Scanlon believed. This was likely to be seen in medical research, secure digital communication, crop engineering, manufacturing, astrophysics, economics and weather forecasting, he added.
Quantum physicist Prof JC Séamus Davis from UCC and Oxford University, who leads a pioneering Irish-UK quantum research programme, underlined new superconductors operating under warmer conditions could bring the quantum computer closer to commercial reality.
It had taken 60 years to create the “amazing machines” that are today’s computers, he pointed out, but they wanted to “avoid another 60 years in making the quantum computer”.
With Brexit, Ireland has an even greater opportunity to become a leading open innovation hub for quantum research, said interim QCEC head Dr. Giorgos Fagas. The facility would ensure Ireland “was quantum technology ready” by facilitating the current and future workforce to develop the skills to deliver innovations in quantum technologies and exploit the new opportunities arising from the disruptive transformation enabled by quantum computing.
“This allows Ireland to develop a competitive edge in the global quantum market, which could attract other technology companies to partner with us and/or locate in Ireland, which will deliver huge societal and economic benefits,” he added.
Tyndall’s core research work to date has been on quantum cryptography for secure communications and sources of quantum light for quantum information – quantum internet and quantum computation.
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