Transforming quantum science into the technologies of the future

Our Centre for Quantum Technology is advancing the UK’s lead in quantum technology while training the future experts in the field.

“We haven’t really scratched the surface of the applications that are going to come out of quantum technology,” says Sara Diegoli, former associate director for strategy at the Centre for Quantum Technology.

Since 2014, the UK has invested more than £1 billion in its national quantum technology programme. It is estimated that by 2030 the global market for quantum technology will be worth upwards of $4.5 trillion (£4 trillion). This is more than the GDP of the whole UK. 

At the Centre for Quantum Technology, researchers are at the forefront of translating decades of quantum science into technology that can be applied in the real world. Quantum technology manipulates particles of light and atoms to achieve feats not otherwise possible in fields such as computing and imaging.

“The UK’s national quantum technology programme has four hubs – computing, communications, sensing and imaging – and the University of Glasgow is active across all of these domains,” says Professor Miles Padgett, Kelvin Chair of Natural Philosophy and the Director of the Centre for Quantum Technology.

Quantum computing, a focus area of the centre, is expected to revolutionise the world of computing, harnessing the laws of quantum mechanics to solve problems too complex for traditional computers.

Padgett gives the example of asking a computer to identify the best possible route from Glasgow to Edinburgh in Scotland. “There’s many, many different road combinations to take. When it’s Glasgow to Edinburgh, that’s possible. But if it was Glasgow to Sydney, then [traditional computing] doesn’t work. Quantum computers are particularly good at solving those types of problems, but they need very special technology.” Such computing capabilities could transform cybersecurity, drug development and artificial intelligence, for example.

The centre is also home to the James Watt Nanofabrication Centre. This is one of Europe’s leading facilities for the fabrication of the tiny components which are crucial for quantum technology. “Quantum is subtle,” Padgett explains. “All these components [used in quantum technology] have to preserve this sort of fragile quantum state so that the final system can outperform its classical counterparts.”

The University leads the UK Quantum Technology Hub in Quantum Enhanced Imaging (QuantIC), and collaborates with researchers and businesses around the country to advance quantum technology for industry, academia and consumers.

Padgett is particularly excited about the applications of quantum technology in healthcare. “We’re imaging the absolute smallest amount of light that’s humanly possible – single photons of light,” he says. Using that sort of technology, “we can effectively detect things inside people’s skulls”. “We’re also building endoscopes – [a light and sensor system that is inserted into the human body] – that are the width of a human hair, rather than the width of your finger,” he says.

Diegoli says there is more to the quantum technology market than simply the money it would bring Scotland and the UK, although she recognises that it is worth billions of pounds. “The untapped potential of this technology to transform the world we live in has not been seen in a long time – since possibly the electronics industry.”

From renewable energy and the green economy to national communications and security, quantum will play a vital role in the future. Beyond the research itself, one of the centre’s most important contributions to this quantum future is training the graduates required by industry to drive this future, say Padgett and Diegoli.

“We’ve been around for long enough, both as the centre and as QuantIC, that we’ve seen PhD students come in and go out into the world and have hugely successful careers,” says Padgett. “The research we do is clearly important and the impact the research has is important, but possibly even more important is the impact our graduates have.”

This article was originally published in the Times Higher Education (November 2022)University of Glasgow transforms quantum science into the technologies of the future