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UK breaks ground on £93M quantum computing center

21 Sep 2021

Quantum optics expert Professor Sir Peter Knight leads a formal ceremony marking the start of construction.

Construction of a new research institution in the UK dedicated to the development of quantum computing is about to begin, after a formal breaking-ground ceremony was held September 20.

The National Quantum Computing Centre (NQCC), located on the same campus as the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) in Harwell, Oxfordshire, will aim to accelerate the development and application of quantum computing - including work with photonics technology such as laser ion traps. It is expected to open in 2023.

Professor Sir Peter Knight, chair of the UK’s National Quantum Technologies Programme's advisory board - and a well-known authority in the world of quantum optics - led the ceremony at the building site.

Industrial transition
Supported via a £93 million investment from the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) funding body, NQCC will aim to address the challenges of scaling up emerging quantum computing technologies.

The center is part of the UK’s wider National Quantum Technologies Programme (NQTP), a decade-long £1 billion effort that began in 2015 with the aim of transitioning quantum technologies from the laboratory to industrial deployments.

“Quantum computing has the potential to solve problems that are practically impossible even for the fastest of today’s supercomputers,” stated the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), which is responsible for delivering the NQCC, alongside the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

“Unlocking this power will catalyse the development of new technologies to deliver benefits across society, ranging from the design of enhanced batteries for electric vehicles through to speeding up the discovery of new medicines and materials, as well as identifying the most efficient use of resources to help us become an environmentally-sustainable society.”

Compared with other quantum technologies - notably quantum-encrypted communication and gravity sensing - computing is at a significantly earlier stage of development.

There is also considerably more competition, with technology giants and well-funded startups in the US accounting for much of the developmental work in quantum computing thus far.

The highest-profile efforts in the US have typically involved superconducting qubits (quantum bits), although alternative ways of creating these fundamental units of quantum information involve laser ion traps and other photonics technology.

Quantum machine
Following the ceremony, Knight said, “One of the most exciting things about quantum computing is that it will revolutionise the way that we can do all sorts of computational tasks, which at the moment are really limiting us.

“There are many examples of how we can use a quantum machine, for example, it is going to transform logistics and the simulation of important chemical processes.”

NQCC intends to bring together businesses, government, and the research community to deliver quantum computing capabilities for the UK, and support the growth of the emerging industry.

Industrial and academic users will gain access to new quantum computers as they come on stream. “This will help UK businesses and researchers to tap into the potential of this technology to develop a range of applications for quantum computing, fully unlocking its capabilities,” STFC announced.

The UKRI chief executive, Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, added, “This is an important step forward in the journey towards creating a flagship facility for the UK quantum community to harness the exciting potential of this technology.

“Breaking ground on this site brings us closer to realising our ambition of addressing the challenges in this burgeoning field by bringing together experts from the public, private and third sectors into one hub.”

Mid-2023 opening
Scheduled to open within two years, the 4035 square-meters NQCC building will ultimately provide room for more than 120 residents and researchers from academia, industry, government, quantum partner organisations and emerging quantum startup companies.

NQCC director Michael Cuthbert said: “Watching our teams across UKRI working so well together with our external contractors throughout the conceptual, and engineering design stages has been really pleasing, especially with the additional challenges of home working and limited access to the site.

“The programme is not just about the facility and we continue to build our team as we recruit expertise into the new Centre and deliver our technology programme in parallel. Exciting times for the NQCC, and today is an important milestone for us.”

According to the NQCC web site, the facility is already looking to recruit an expert in ion trap physics with experience working with optics and lasers, and an applications engineer.

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