Collaboration between universities gives Scotland an edge in the global search for quantum computing

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Academics agree that in the race to build next-generation computing technology, Scotland has the skills to take on tech giants such as IBM, Google and Intel.

Edinburgh, Glasgow and Strathclyde Universities have joined up to create a new national center that will bring together globally recognised experts in quantum computing hardware, software and application development, a field that is expected to be worth $65 billion by 2030.

To explore investment opportunities, the new Scottish Center for Research in Quantum Computing and Simulation has obtained funding from the Scottish government.

Quantum computers use the properties of small microscopic particles – or nanoelectronic circuits – to process information, rendering it exponentially more efficient than traditional computers. Tech giants like IBM, Google, Microsoft, Intel and Amazon are investing millions of dollars in the creation of the world’s first working quantum computers.

Google revealed last October that it took three minutes and 20 seconds for its quantum computer to solve a problem that would have taken around 10,000 years for the world’s fastest supercomputer.

“There are problems that even the world’s biggest supercomputers can’t solve,” said Andrew Daley, professor of quantum computing at Strathclyde University. For example, by managing highways in different places, how to optimize traffic flow; how to maximize fuel efficiency when large aircraft take off; or how to invest in stocks to get the maximum return with minimal risk. Since we can calculate on a quantum computer in a very different way, these are the kinds of things we don’t think we can do on a conventional computer.’

The key beneficiaries of the UK government’s £ 1 billion UK National Quantum Technologies Programme are Scottish universities, a 10-year plan to place the UK at the forefront of research and commercialization of quantum technology.

The University of Edinburgh is now hosting the UK’s £ 79 million national supercomputer and is one of the partners in the construction of the UK’s first commercial quantum computer in a £ 10 million project.

A £ 10 million initiative to overcome technical obstacles to quantum hardware scaling is included in Quantum Computing Research at the University of Strathclyde. And the University of Glasgow is part of a UK consortium of £ 7 million that focuses on the commercialization of quantum technologies.

Scottish Minister of Trade, Investment and Innovation Ivan McKee said, “This joint project between the Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Strathclyde aims to position Scotland as a leading quantum computing location and has the potential to attract significant international funding for research and create employment.”

It also offers a model of cooperation that could be implemented to draw inward investment and improve the Scottish economy in other sectors.’

Support from the Scottish Government would finance a feasibility report on quantum computing investment opportunities. This may include collaborations with major technology firms, organisations or countries that already have their own initiatives for quantum computing.

For example, Microsoft has quantum computing collaborations with universities and other places around the world,” Professor Daley said. “At Delft University, there are major centers for quantum computing in Singapore and in the Netherlands. Clusters for quantum computing and other quantum technologies have also been developed by the German and United States governments.

Professor Elham Kashefi, who leads the quantum team at the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh, claims that the new center will help “unlock the potential of quantum technology in an unprecedented way.”

“She added, “Maybe only large corporations like IBM, Microsoft, Amazon or Google will understand such a dream. But I believe that the center’s versatility as a research institute versus a completely corporate-driven program may be just the simple bridge that our industry urgently needs.

Martin Weides, professor of quantum technology at the James Watt School of Engineering of the University of Glasgow, said, “There is now an international race to develop practical technologies and applications.”

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