Quantum technologies will impact society and whole economy in the future - so we need to get on board and unite to develop these technologies.
That was the key message of the international event Northern Prospects of Quantum, held in Brussels on 30 March. It brought together science and business representatives from the Nordic and Baltic countries - Finland, Sweden, Norway, Lithuania Latvia and Estonia. EU and national policy makers interacted with them during the event.
The Lithuanian quantum team in Brussels consisted of researchers from Center for Physical Sciences and Technology (FTSC) and Vilnius University (VU), as well as representatives from the Lithuanian company Novian Technologies. They presented what Lithuania is doing in the field of quantum technologies, the challenges it faces and the needs it has identified.
(Lithuanian "quantum team" in Brussels, at the Northern Prospects of Quantum event. Photo: Dr. Mažena Mackoit-Sinkevičienė)
The need for unity
Dr. Tadas Paulauskas, Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Optoelectronics, and his colleagues from the same division, Dr. Mažena Mackoit-Sinkevičienė and Dr. Jan Devenson, represented FTMC in Brussels.
According to Tadas Paulauskas, the Lithuanian delegates spoke to European policy makers about the need for funding and the importance of quantum technologies both for individual countries and for Europe as a whole.
"Quantum technology is now a race between countries. The US and China are strong leaders, but Europe has joint programmes such as the Quantum Flagship. And it is true that the big countries, such as Germany, France, etc., get a lot of attention and funding. So we want to show that the Scandinavians and the Baltics are not lagging behind either. We want to make sure that our countries are not sidelined.
We wanted to highlight what are quantum topics we are developing and at the same time to encourage cooperation between countries. Quantum technology is a very interdisciplinary field: some people are more familiar with some things and others with others. Some have one kind of infrastructure, others have another... We need to foster competitiveness, both within Europe and in the world, so that Europe can compete successfully with the US and China. Quantum technologies are seen as having strategic importance," says Dr. Tadas Paulauskas.
(Dr. Tadas Paulaukas (second from left) leading a panel discussion at the Northern Prospects of Quantum event. Photo: Dr. Mažena Mackoit-Sinkevičienė)
The researcher, together with Dr. Julius Ruseckas from the Baltic Institute of Advanced Technology, published the book in Lithuanian "Kvantinė kompiuterija" ("Quantum Computing") in December 2022. It is free to read online, and gives you an insight into the dephts of quantum physics.
"Quantum technology rests on four 'pillars' - quantum computing, quantum simulation, quantum sensors and quantum communications. All are characterized by the control of individual quantum systems and their complexity in applications.
In Lithuania, we do not yet have a well-formed overall quantum strategy, so one of the messages from Brussels is that we need one. If we want to take advantage of what quantum technologies can offer in the future, we need to think about where Lithuania's strengths might lie, so that we can concentrate sufficient resources there," says Tadas.
At the Northern Prospects of Quantum event, FTMC scientist led a public discussion and VU Professor Gediminas Juzeliūnas presented what Lithuanians are doing in the field of quantum technologies (or related fields).
"For example, in the Department of Optoelectronic at FTMC, we are developing various advanced materials and quantum structures, such as quantum dots and quantum wells, which can be used as components in quantum communication infrastructures and semiconductor-based quantum processors, using Molecular Beam Epitaxy (MBE).
The Electronic Structure Theory Group, led by Dr. Audrius Alkauskas, has carried out a number of world-renowned works in the development of quantum sensors. The Department of Laser Technologies is also getting involved in quantum technologies, and is starting to develop quantum communications," says T. Paulauskas.
(Prof. Gediminas Juzeliūnas presents the contribution of Lithuanians to the development of quantum technologies at the Northern Prospects of Quantum event. Photo: Dr. Mažena Mackoit-Sinkevičienė)
Vilnius University is also doing a lot of work in this area. For example, the Quantum Optics Group, led by Prof. Gediminas Juzeliūnas, is working on cold atom systems. These systems are one of the platforms being developed for the creation of a quantum computer. Another VU researcher, Dr. Mantas Šimėnas, is working in the laboratory on the development of quantum memory, which can be used in quantum communications and computing.
Meanwhile, Novian Technologies, a Lithuanian company that was in Brussels with him, is deploying supercomputers in various countries (imagine a normal personal computer, but with a much more powerful "brain": a sophisticated processor, a huge working memory, etc). Such computers are essential helpers for quantum computers under development, helping to evaluate how their algorithms work, and they are the best in measuring the computing power of a quantum computer.
Supercomputers will continue to be important for quantum technology in the future, as they will be needed to process the huge amounts of data from quantum computers, to correct errors in quantum processors and to stabilize the system.
Dr. Paulauskas says that of the Nordic and Baltic "team" mentioned above, Finland and Sweden already have their own quantum computers, which are being integrated into a common infrastructure along with supercomputers.
Lithuania does not have quantum computers, but already has its own supercomputers (one of which is installed at FTMC) and there is a possibility of connecting them to the "quantum network" in Finland and Sweden.
How is a quantum computer different? It has fundamentally different algorithms: calculations are not based on our usual bits (which are either 0 or 1), but on qubits (which can be both 0 and 1 at the same time!).
(Bloch sphere, a geometrical representation of a two-level quantum system. Photo: Smite-Meister / Wikipedia.org)
Scientists often think of a single qubit as a sphere or a ball: the "arrow" at its centre can point in all possible directions - which means countless values for the qubit. So-called quantum entanglement, which allows multiple qubits to behave as a single entity, is an essential resource for calculations and for sending information via quantum communications.
Such quantum computers are expected to be much faster - speeding up the development of new medicines, predicting climate change more accurately and otherwise contributing to our daily lives. But there is still a lot of work to be done, says Paulauskas, starting with increasing the number of qubits in a quantum processor, making quantum computing more fault-tolerant, and developing applications of quantum algorithms, such as artificial intelligence.
We need to start moving forward
The Brussels workshop was one of the first steps in the formation of a community that could develop a quantum technology strategy for science and business, says FTMC scientist:
"I think this event is timely. We had a conversation with representatives of the VU at the Seimas Committee for the Future beforehand, where we pointed out that we still don't have a quantum technology programme here. We mentioned that Lithuania is even committed to introducing quantum communication at national level and between countries.
There is an initiative called The European Quantum Communication Infrastructure (EuroQCI), of which Lithuania is a member. The aim of the programme is for all European countries to have a common quantum communications network that enables secure communication using quantum technologies. We need Lithuania to start moving forward, because we are lagging behind even Latvia on this issue."
Written by Simonas Bendžius
(Top right: Dr. Tadas Paulauskas. Photo from personal archive)