The quantum revolution is at a crossroads. For years, Switzerland and the United States have invested in quantum information science and technology with a shared commitment to the power of bottom-up research and innovation. Now, the two countries are engaging in a new coordinated effort to take their cooperation in QIST to the next level.
As a key component of this endeavor, Swissnex in Boston and New York launched the Swiss-US Quantum Days, a conference that brought together over 80 quantum researchers, innovators, and industry leaders from both countries in Chicago on October 19-21. The event followed the signing of a Joint Statement on Cooperation in Quantum Information Science and Technology between Switzerland and the United States on October 19 in Washington, DC.
“The statement outlines several avenues for future collaboration, such as building a trusted market and supply chain, or supporting the education of the next generation of scientists and engineers,” says Benjamin Bollmann, CEO of Swissnex in Boston and New York. “Our conference was a way to give quantum communities from the two countries the opportunity to usher in this new era of collaboration.”
Representing the Swiss and US governments in Chicago were Martina Hirayama, Switzerland’s State Secretary for Education, Research, and Innovation, and Charles Tahan, who leads the US National Quantum Initiative as the Director of the National Quantum Coordination Office (NQCO) at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).
Co-organized with the Chicago Quantum Exchange (CQE), the two-day program explored topics such as scientific advances in quantum computing, sensing, theory, and communication; quantum readiness in industrial sectors such as pharma and finance; and building ecosystems of innovation, including education pipelines for a diverse quantum-ready workforce.
“For us, it’s ultimately about raising the visibility of Swiss excellence in quantum technology, fostering bottom-up connections, and seeding what could become an annual conference between the two countries,” says project lead Brendan Karch, Head of Academic Engagement at Swissnex in Boston and New York, who developed the first edition with Kate Timmerman, CQE’s Executive Director.
The Swiss-US Quantum Days were supported by the ETH Board, represented in Chicago by leading researchers from ETH Zurich, EPFL, the Paul Scherrer Institute, as well as the ETH-based National Center of Competence in Research (NCCR) “QSIT – Quantum Science and Technology.” The event also included representatives from the University of Basel, the NCCR “SPIN – Spin Qubits in Silicon,” the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW), and the University of Geneva.
Swissnex’s role in building bridges between Switzerland and the US in the field will continue in 2023. On October 4 Karch delivered a keynote address at the Quantum Industry Day in Switzerland, presenting the US quantum ecosystem and outlining a range of opportunities to better connect researchers and entrepreneurs at every career stage. Swissnex is working to develop future activities in coordination with Swiss quantum players, who are eager to find ways to collaborate on research, better understand the US quantum landscape, and develop two-way pipelines for nurturing talent.
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Switzerland & Quantum
Switzerland is an outsized global player in all major aspects of quantum information science and technology. Its universities and research institutes are pioneering fundamental advances in the science of quantum computing, including such technologies as superconducting or spin qubits and ion traps. Advances in sensing and measurement are coming from the startup world and special private-public partnerships. And Swiss discoveries in quantum-secure communications are already commercially successful. Thanks to strong industries in photonics, electronics, and precision manufacturing, Switzerland is also supplying key enabling technologies like ultrafast lasers and qubit controllers.
The Swiss federal government is eager to support this ecosystem and establish deeper ties globally. It recently announced a National Quantum Initiative with a budget of CHF 80 million for the period 2023-2028. These funds will supplement the already considerable expenditure made by Swiss higher education institutions, existing quantum research activities such as the NCCR Quantum Science and Technology (QSIT) and NCCR Spin Qubits in Silicon (SPIN), as well as the Quantum Transitional Call by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF).
Internationally, Swiss quantum actors already have strong ties across Europe and globally. Within this broad field, the US plays a strategic role given vast research networks and vibrant startup culture. At the governmental level, Switzerland is part of a group of countries participating in high-level quantum discussions with the US White House Office and Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The SNSF is also working to accelerate collaboration with the US National Science Foundation through mechanisms such as the lead agency process. Swissnex is excited to play a role in these efforts by fostering the bottom-up connections that are the lifeblood of scientific discovery and innovation.
What is Quantum?
At the smallest scale of our physical world, the laws of classical physics break down in fundamental ways. For example, particles can occupy multiple states, a principle known as superposition. And two particles can become so intertwined that they act as a single system even when separated, a phenomenon known as entanglement. Physicists discovered these properties in the early 20th century, and our knowledge of them has yielded such everyday technologies as lasers and GPS. In recent decades, a “second quantum revolution” has been brewing. Scientists are now learning to control these quantum properties in order to gather and process new scales of information.
Quantum computing is potentially the most revolutionary application. Because quantum particles can occupy multiple states, they can convey far more information than the ‘0’ or ‘1’ of a classical bit. This power of the quantum bit, or “qubit,” scales exponentially. A quantum computer with a few hundred qubits could be as powerful as today’s computers with billions of bits. Quantum computers thus have the potential to solve currently intractable computational problems. This could in turn unlock new discoveries in fields like chemical synthesis, drug discovery, finance, energy grid management, and logistics, to name just a few. And just like with the classical computer, its true potential remains unknown at such an early stage.
Our modern sensing, measurement, and communications technologies may also be fundamentally challenged by the quantum revolution. New quantum sensors, such as magnetometers, are being developed that can operate with unparalleled sensitivity. Existing tools like atomic clocks can also be miniaturized with quantum technology. In the communications field, quantum poses a threat to our current public-key encryption algorithms, many of which may be broken by advanced quantum computers. To head off this threat, post-quantum encryption algorithms are being developed alongside cryptography tools that use quantum technologies.
Main Image Credit: Connie Zhou for IBM