Quantum Computing

Liam Blackwell, Deputy Director of Quantum Technologies at the Engineering and Physical Sciences UK Research Council, on Shaping the Next Stage of the Pilot National Program


by Dr. Liam Blackwell. Dr. Blackwell is the Deputy Director of Quantum Technologies, responsible for contributions to the UK’s National Quantum Technology Program of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The UK’s National Quantum Technology Program (NQTP) is about to begin its second decade, building on its inspiring first 10 years. Benefit from the strong partnership between the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Innovate UK, Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC); Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl); National Physics Laboratory (NPL); Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ); Innovate KTN UK and the Department of Science and Technology Innovation (DSIT).

There is much to celebrate. This unique partnership between academia, industry and government has delivered transformative advances with commercial value.

Quantum physics is being developed and transformed into new products and services at a pace that exceeds many initial expectations thanks to the Program and its collaborative and coherent focus.

The next phase is an opportunity to sharpen that focus even further, reflecting the tremendous progress made and our clear vision of how to create a valuable and useful quantum-based economy.

Make commercial applications possible

EPSRC, as part of UK Research and Innovation, is at the heart of the UK’s much-employed Quantum Programme. It funds research that enables commercial applications, as well as skills and training in the sciences and engineering required.

Our responsibilities cover all four Quantum Technology Research Center which acts as the engine for the UK’s quantum ambitions, weaving the science of quantum technology with ideas for its commercialization and ushering a route to market. They have provided British expertise on which UK ambitions in this new technology are built.

We also, work together with STFC to establish National Quantum Computing Center, an investment that plays a key role in the NQT Program. NQCC is focused on three key areas: technology development, quantum readiness, and building state-of-the-art quantum computing infrastructure.

Quantum activated tomorrow

The quantum jobs we support today provide a glimpse into our quantum-enabled future: secure data communications, mind-blowing brain imaging, advanced atomic clocks, better monitors of gas emissions, mapping of the world beneath our feet, cameras that can see around corners and many more research breakthroughs.

But just like looking in the rearview mirror isn’t a guide to the road ahead. The direction for the next 10 years from a technology development program that is getting more mature and faster cannot rely solely on reading the tracks that have been passed.

In March this year, with the publication of the British Government National Quantum Strategy we got a glimpse of what the future could look like. This strategy defines a vision and a ten-year plan for quantum in the UK, committing to spend £2.5 billion on research, innovation, skills and other activities.

The British quantum landscape

The wider quantum landscape is evolving rapidly, led in large part by our own National Program. For example, there is more certainty around where quantum technologies will become transformative, a sharper appreciation of their role in critical national resilience, and a greater awareness of the skills and training needed to sustain them all.

The next phase of the UK Program should address all of this. It must also meet the challenges of a more competitive global race for a quantum enabling economy and the opportunity to build international partnerships around them, trading not only ideas but also products and knowledge.

Invest in the future

The four existing Hubs, founded in 2014, group quantum activities around broad themes: sensors and timing, imaging, computing and simulation, and communications. Each has built extraordinary expertise, relationships and reputations. The UK-led Research Hub structure was a key framework and a success. It worked and we are committed to it.

We want to capitalize on their success in developing the Program. We have committed £80 million to invest in a new portfolio of Quantum Technology Hubs which will continue cutting-edge quantum technology research with the aim of building a broader ecosystem of quantum technology and innovation.

Building quantum capabilities

Since the inception of the National QT Program, we have invested heavily in training our future researchers and innovators and nurturing our future leaders in these emerging technologies. To achieve Quantum Strategy’s ambitions, we need to increase our investment, at various levels, in the people who will give us expertise and capabilities in this new technology.

Together, the investments we make in research, training and infrastructure projects, should draw on expertise and explore the integration of quantum with other technologies, and create a pathway to strategic advantage, prosperity and profit for the UK.


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