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“Quantum technology has made incredible strides in fifteen years”

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The first Quantum and Society gala will be held on March 14, when Albert Einstein was born and Stephen Hawking died. To set the mood, quantum physicists Julia Cramer and Ronald Hanson talk about progress on the quantum front based on five topics.

Julia Cramer: “As an assistant professor at Quantum & Society, I conduct research on the interface between quantum technology and society from the perspective of science communication. Since this research is relatively new, I can look at the interface between society and quantum very widely using different research methods.

Ronald Hanson: “For the past few years, as a professor at the QuTech research institute, I led the National Growth Fund’s (Dutch government investment fund, ed.) quantum program. I recently quit because I wanted to return to deep research and look at existing commercial opportunities. Now that I have less management responsibilities, my head is freed up. I’m ready to take the leap and learn new things again.’


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Julia Cramer (Eindhoven, 1988) is assistant professor of Quantum & Society at Leiden University. Ronald Hanson (Groningen, 1976) is a professor of quantum technology at QuTech and TU Delft and is one of the founders of Quantum Delta NL.

A complex phenomenon

Hanson: “It’s hard for people to see when the word ‘quantum’ is mentioned. When I recently mentioned at a birthday party that I’m a physics professor, I got a response from my interlocutor that he left this subject first in high school. But I see a change: more and more people have heard about quantum and quantum technology and know that we are building a new type of computer and a new type of Internet. Interest in the phenomenon is increasing and fear is decreasing. Ten years ago, mainly visionary ideas and plans are now more concrete.

Cramer: “That’s also a reason to study it. We look, for example, at how it’s framed in the media and in lectures. Sometimes it’s portrayed as scary, but sometimes the basic principles are explained. We also look at the effect of metaphors: explaining quantum superposition using Schrödinger’s cat in a box, dead or alive, or quantum foxing using two coins you toss.

Julia Cramer. Photo: Bram Belloni.

Physics and technology

Cramer: “I make a distinction between physics and technology. Physics describes how tiny particles like electrons and light particles behave. Technology is based on the resulting laws of quantum mechanics. Then you have what I call quantum technology 1.0 and 2.0. We already use version 1.0 in phones and lasers .Quantum 2.0 is the next step: a technology based on individual quantum particles that you can control and read individually so that you can use them as building blocks for calculations.

Hanson: “When I walk through the lab and look at the experiment, I’m still really amazed at the special things that quantum mechanics makes possible. Mathematically, we all understand that, but still. We’ve made tremendous strides in the last fifteen years. Back then—with all due respect—we were tinkering around in the lab when again now we can hardly keep up with the pace of development.

A quantum computer in no

Hanson: “It started as a theoretical concept. Then people started building hard. There have been several demonstration projects: small-scale quantum computers that have done things that really exceed the capabilities of ‘normal’ supercomputers. Now it’s been shown that quantum computers can do things you can’t do with ordinary computers. But that doesn’t mean quantum computers are useful either. The next big step is for them to have a relevant solve problems faster than a normal computer can. We are also working on the next generation internet – the quantum internet – which will connect quantum computers.

Cramer: “I don’t know if the day will come when the first undeniably useful quantum computer is suddenly available—a sudden event like the first moon landing. With a quantum computer, it’s more gradual. Quantum computers have already done calculations that were more efficient than a normal computer could have done. It happens step by step and the usefulness is constantly increasing.

Ronald Hanson. Photo: Bram Belloni.

Holland is a guide country

Hanson: “A global competition has arisen in quantum technology. Everyone – China, America and Europe – wants to be the first to bring the technology to market. We participate at the highest level. That competition is good and also makes it fun. The fact that we are doing so well in Holland, partly because we are good in the fields that form the foundation of quantum technology, such as mathematics, physics and computer science, and we have made good choices at key moments, for example by establishing QuTech, an interdisciplinary institute with long-term funding.

Cramer: “We have a history with us and have invested heavily in this industry at the right time. In addition, the topic has always aroused warm interest in the press and the public.


Cramer: ‘Difficult because there’s a lot we don’t know yet. I hope that the way of thinking about implementation in society makes sense. That we get the right people involved and talk about it in a good way. I also hope that it becomes a sustainable technology that many different people work on (and promote).

Hanson: “We’re now moving from the lab to products and applications. I’m really looking forward to the moment when I can get my hands on a device with useful quantum technology. I don’t know what that looks like. And it’s not very interesting: it’s about functionality.

Quantum and society gala
On March 14, the Quantum and Society gala will be held at TivoliVredenburg in Utrecht, organized by New Scientist. In addition to Julia Cramer and Ronald Hanson, speakers include Freeke Heijman (founder of Quantum Delta NL), Deborah Nas (Professor of Industrial Design), Bob Coecke (Professor of Theoretical Physics) and Constantijn van Oranje (Special Ambassador of TechLeap). nl).

This article was produced in collaboration with the Center for Quantum and Society, part of Quantum Delta NL.

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