What next for the Quantum Metrology Institute?

Picture of Rhys lewis

Dr Rhys Lewis
Director of the Quantum Metrology Institute at the National Physical Laboratory

Last year was an extremely busy year for everyone at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), not least the science team from the Quantum Metrology Institute (QMI). Throughout the year we were delighted to publish three reports summarising our work with industry and from our technical programme: the Quantum Metrology Institute Annual Report describing the activities and progress of the QMI across many fields, Recommendations from Industry summarising the findings of the industry engagement activity led by our CEO Dr Pete Thompson, and Opportunities for Superconducting Quantum Technologies in the UK, a review led by NPL’s Dr Tobias Lindstrom and the NPL superconducting team with input from many UK experts in the field.

The year concluded with the National Quantum Technologies Programme Showcase at which the NPL quantum team demonstrated some of the amazing work they have been delivering, many of the projects in close collaboration with industry, academia, and other parts of government. Our displays included the development of compact atomic clocks led by Professor Patrick Gill and their path to commercialisation in the UK; cavities for ultra-stable lasers in space; testing of quantum communications systems in which we work with colleagues at the quantum communications hub and GCHQ; the characterisation of solid state quantum technologies for sensors and quantum computers working with the growing number of companies large and small in the field; and the NPL development of a highly scalable, room temperature, low noise ion microtrap, potentially a building block for an optical quantum computer.

I would like to thank the science team for all the hard work they put in last year and our many supporters – particularly the invaluable assistance of our QMI Chair Sir Peter Knight.

We are now about to enter the second phase of the National Quantum Technologies Programme. Phase one was highly successful, joining up research across academia, government and industry, driving technologies towards commercialisation and positioning the UK as world leaders in this arena. Phase two of the programme has a lot to live up to!

So, what course should we be taking with quantum technologies? For direction we look to the conclusions from the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee report on Quantum technologies  and our work alongside other programme partners engaging with quantum industry.

Supporting industry

We look forward to continuing to work closely with industry and academia to move the development of quantum technologies forward to market. We have exciting partnerships with companies of all sizes, working to commercialise NPL inventions, or to use the experience and facilities of NPL to push forward towards the development of reliable proved new products.

Phase two of the National Quantum Technologies Programme has to focus on generating more ‘buy in’ to the potentially game-changing nature of quantum technologies, from those industries not yet engaged. As with any new technology, it takes time for it to be incorporated. That’s why we are looking for pioneers to get on board and reap the rewards of being an early adopter of quantum technology. We will keep discussing with industry the positive impact quantum technologies could have on their sector.

This year will also see the opening of our Advanced Quantum Metrology Laboratory – which should enable us to build our test and validation capability to support new product development in industry as more quantum technologies move closer to market.

Quantum Computing

It was announced in the 2018 Autumn budget that £75 million funding would be made available for a National Quantum Computing Centre. As the NPL report on “Opportunities for Superconducting Quantum Technologies in the UK” highlights, it is essential that this investment brings together all the expertise and facilities needed to support the delivery of an expanded quantum computing capability in the UK.

There is a lot of excitement at the progress that is being made in quantum computing. Under the leadership of our research director Dr JT Janssen, himself a quantum scientist, the team at NPL will continue to work on the two main platforms for quantum computing: solid state superconducting technologies led by Professor Alexander Tzalenchuk and trapped ions led by Dr Alastair Sinclair, along with growing work on quantum software validation.

If you would like to hear more about what is happening in quantum computing in the UK, please read our upcoming guest blog from Networked Quantum Information Technologies – the Quantum Computing Hub.

Quantum Timing

Last year at New Scientist Live – Dr Helen Margolis from our time and frequency team did a fantastic job talking about the history of time measurement, and how timing is becoming ever more accurate and precise.  NPL is the official UTC timekeeper and the home of time for the UK. Helen and the rest of the team will continue to strive to measure time ever more accurately to drive new applications and scientific advances. In the future this work will contribute to the redefinition of the second based on a new generation of optical quantum clocks being developed at NPL. We are using our capabilities in the design of ever more precise clocks to produce devices with reduced size, cost and power requirements but with a performance which is required for use outside of the laboratory in practical applications. This week we are co-hosting with the Institute of Physics a topical research meeting on time. NPL’s Dr Anne Curtis will be chairing and a number of our excellent science team are speaking at it.

Quantum Communications

Quantum communications may help to address some of the vulnerabilities within our current communications systems. Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) is a method of securely sending codes between users based on the quantum properties of light. QKD theoretically provides a means to send secure communications, however there is much more work to do to test and demonstrate fully secure and practical systems, a process which must include all the relevant authorities. We also need to explore how we can employ QKD over distances longer than 500 km, perhaps via satellites.

Quantum Sensors

The nature of quantum phenomena means that atoms are extremely sensitive to changes in conditions around them, making them perfect as a sensor! The potential uses for quantum sensors cannot be underestimated for vehicles, for healthcare, for defence, construction, and many other areas. A key challenge in this arena is ensuring the independent testing of sensors that are developed, so that industry can have confidence in their capabilities and they can be integrated with current technologies.

Find out more about the work NPL is doing around quantum.