Disentangling Quantum Tech at TU Delft
The quantum future is being built in our backyards, with QuTech a collaboration between TUDelft and TNO in The Hague region. What is the quantum internet and why is it such a massive step towards a quantum laden future? Read about it and the basics of the quantum internet in our latest article
There was a time when anyone studying quantum physics or quantum mechanics was regarded as the ultimate nerd, definitely not the life and soul of the party. All that has changed with the global race to develop quantum computers. Corporations like IBM and Google, institutions like TNO (the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research), Fraunhofer and illustrious universities like Harvard, ETH Zurich and TUDelft are all committed to solve quantum computing challenges. Quantum computers will not replace classic computers, but they will change our world, with the ability to crunch huge amounts of data in a fraction of the time. This speed will be especially valuable in healthcare for new drug development and genomics, and in the telecommunications industry for semiconductor optimization and extremely rapid communications.
Just outside our city borders, TUDelft and TNO have established a research and development unit known as QuTech, dedicated to untangling the challenges of quantum computing.
First CPUs, Then GPUs, Now QPUs
We are all familiar with the central processing unit (CPU) that lurks inside our desktops and laptops. They do a good job for the normal business worker or consumer. However, for disciplines like engineering, they are too slow. Enter the graphics processing unit (GPU), which is based on graphics cards that were originally designed for playing games and are manufactured primarily by Nvidia and AMD; every computer has one, but for scientific and engineering computations, like finite element analysis (FEA), the ability to process in parallel cuts down weeks of CPU processing to more desirable timespans of half an hour or less. The more GPUs, the merrier, when it comes to complex calculation. Then along came the quantum processing unit (QPU). Now work that still took hours even with a string of CPUs and GPUS can be executed in seconds or less.
The quantum computer will not replace the classic computer, although some of the tasks, such as working with huge and disparate data, will become the province of quantum machines. Mundane tasks, like sending and managing email, and word processing, will still be managed on traditional computers. This is because quantum computers require extraordinary conditions in which to operate, such as a temperature fractionally above absolute zero. They also use “qubits” or quantum bits, to operate. These computers are surprisingly small and tend to resemble a rather exotic chandelier hanging from the ceiling
The Spooky World of Qubits and Entanglement
Even if we are not technologically inclined, we know of bits and bytes and their simplicity. A bit can have a value of 1 (one) or 0 (zero) and the organization of bits in these on- and off-states, is at the heart of all data stored and all applications that perform activities on data to give us the results we want on our classic computers. Qubits can be both 1 and 0 at the same time, plus a range of values in-between. What is really fascinating about them is that they can be entangled with one or more other qubits, and they will all behave in exactly the same way, even if they are thousands of miles (or more) apart; change the state of one qubit and all the others will react in the same way. Einstein called quantum entanglement “Spooky action at a distance”. What entanglement does enable is very fast parallel processing within the quantum computer, way beyond the speed and capabilities of even the largest supercomputer
QuTech - Pioneering Quantum Tech in the Netherlands
TU Delft has always been a globally respected university when it comes to science and technology, and is always open to innovation: it has been offering free and low-cost courses and programs via the EDx MOOC for several years now, enabling science and technology learningall across the globe. Of the 147 courses currently on offer, ranging from sustainable cities to programming for kids, 5 are centred on quantum technology. The University. realised early on that quantum technology was a critical field in which research and development needed to be undertaken, and launched QuTech in 2014. Today the research unit has some 300 people engaged in various activities to advance quantum technology. The main divisions in QuTech are; research and engineering, the QuTech Academy and Quantum Inspire, an open-science platform open to all.
Researching Qubits, Quantum Computing and Quantum Internet
QuTech Research and Engineering has 3 areas of focus; qubit research, the potential of quantum Internet and the mechanics of quantum computing.
Qubits exist in the very opposite of a solid state, they are transient and easily decompose and detach (or decohere in quantum terms). Qubit Research has a mission to improve the viability of quantum computing by stabilizing qubits and creating a robust foundation for quantum computing.
The Quantum Computing division studies quantum computing architecture or the quantum computing stack, a combination of hardware and software, which relates to classical computing architecture, with languages and compilers, but has its own unique challenge, quantum error correction, which is as a result of the instability of the qubit, the uncertainty of its contents and whether there has been a change, because to interrogate a qubit is to destroy it.
We mentioned the magic of entangled qubits, that 2 or more qubits can become entangled and behave synchronously, irrespective of how remotely situated they are. This is the true “death of distance”. All quantum computers will be networked and be able to communicate instantly and securely, protected by the laws of physics. This is the work of the Quantum Internet division.
Quantum Inspire - Quantum Technology for the People
Apart from the QuTech Academy, which promotes quantum learning via courses and providing bursaries to promising students, and TU Delft’s MOOC and campus education, there is also an opportunity for practical learning via Quantum Aspire. TU Delft has taken an open-access approach to quantum research encouraging participation by all from major partners like Microsoft, to the curious teen or entrepreneur who has an interest in STEM learning, and can participate via the Quantum Inspire (QI) platform. Using the QI platform, members of the community can write and test algorithms, with a variety of toolsets to choose from, ranging from an assembler language to SDKs (software development kit), such as the commonly used Qiskit from IBM and QI’s own SDK.
Access to the Quantum Inspire platform is totally free, but has 3 levels of registration:-
- the anonymous account, which gives access to up to 5 qubits on the QX simulator, but no storage and sharing capabilities.
- the basic account, which allows the user to simulate algorithms using up to 26 qubits
- an advanced account, which emulates up to 31 cubits on the Cartesius Dutch national supercomputer at SURFsara, the national high-performance computer centre.
Opportunities to Get Involved
The quantum technology market is currently estimated at $480 million, but is expected to be worth about 8 times that amount by 2030 ($3 870 million). Future projections are even more impressive.
QuTech’s belief in open science opens the doors to anyone who wants to enter this exciting new world, either remotely using Quantum Inspire or studying on EDx, or by joining the growing quantum technology enthusiasts in Delft and The Hague. South Holland is a very welcoming place to settle, and includes the cities of Leiden, Rotterdam and The Hague. Start-ups and entrepreneurs have their choice of innovation hubs, especially in the tech space. The pace in South Holland’s cities is less frenetic than in Amsterdam, but none of the cities and towns are backwaters by any means, with young people from all over the world who are passionate about technology and bringing change to the planet