Atomic clock and quantum cryptography research will receive a boost with the launch of a new research network aiming to get the technology from lab to market.
Four Quantum Technology Hubs, located at the Universities of Birmingham, Oxford, York and Glasgow, will coordinate the work as part of a £120m investment by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
The project, designed to facilitate cooperation between engineers, scientists and technologists, was unveiled today by Greg Clark, the UK Minister of State for Universities, at the University of Birmingham.
“This exciting new Quantum Hubs network will push the boundaries of knowledge and exploit new technologies, to the benefit of healthcare, communications and security,” Clark said.
“This investment in quantum technologies has the potential to bring game-changing advantages to future timing, sensing and navigation capabilities that could support multi-billion pound markets in the UK and globally.”
Over 130 companies and 17 universities will participate in the research, funded from the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme backed with a £270m investment announced by Chancellor George Osborne in his Autumn Statement of 2013.
The four hubs, selected through a competitive process, will each concentrate on a separate research area.
The Birmingham-based centre will focus on improving accuracy of quantum-based measurements of time and frequency, which have major effect on a wide range of fields including stock trading and satellite navigation.
The University of Glasgow team will aim to develop new types of cameras with unprecedented sensitivity and capability to time the arrival of detected light. Such devices could find widespread use in medical imaging, security and environmental monitoring, as well as manufacturing of high-value materials.
Quantum cameras will be able to visualise gas leaks, see clearly through smoke, look round corners or underneath the skin. Quantum sensors developed by the Hub will detect single contaminant molecules and detect electromagnetic and gravitational fields with exceptional sensitivity.
At Oxford University, researchers will focus on advancing quantum information processing, developing quantum computers with performance well beyond the limits of current supercomputers.
Application of quantum methods in information security will be the centre of interest for the York-based hub. Advancing concepts such as quantum key distribution (QKD), the hub will aim to develop chip-sized devices, reducing manufacturing costs and opening new areas for the use of quantum encryption.
To support the hubs, a Quantum Metrology Institute will be established at the UK’s National Physical Laboratory in Teddington, focusing on development of compact atomic clocks for precise time-keeping in communications and quantum key distribution for next generation data encryption.
"In the UK we have had incredible academic strength in quantum research, both at the universities and places like the National Physical Laboratory (NPL),” said Professor Sir Peter Knight, who will head the newly established institute.
“The new initiative driven by government's £270m investment is to pull all this out of the laboratories and into practical realisations in the real world.”
The Quantum Metrology Institute, having received £4m of the funding, will provide a critical testbed to validate measurements and help new products and businesses off the ground.
The Institute will also serve as a training ground for the next generation of quantum scientists and engineers, offering opportunities for postgraduate researchers to advance their understanding of quantum technology.
The Institute will be formally launched in late 2015 following major refurbishment work to provide more room for laboratories.
The Quantum Technology Network will receive further support from the project’s partners including Innovate UK, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) and the Knowledge Transfer Network.
“In the twentieth century, exploitation of quantum mechanics brought about semiconductors, microprocessors, lasers, nuclear energy, thermal imagers and digital cameras, all of which provide countless benefits for society as well as for the military,” Neil Stansfield, head of Knowledge, Innovation, and Futures Enterprise at Dstl, commented.
“In order to replicate such successes with new quantum technologies, there is a need to commercialise the fruits of the UK’s world class academic community.”