Quantum Boost

ICTP researcher among recipients of EU Quantum Flagship scheme
Quantum Boost

A researcher from ICTP's Condensed Matter and Statistical Physics section is among the recipients of a €1 billion European Commission initiative called the Quantum Flagship that funds quantum technology. These are technologies that are based on the laws of quantum mechanics, which govern physics at the atomic scale.

For the first three-year phase of the Flagship, ICTP's Marcello Dalmonte is co-principal investigator of a research project that will focus on quantum simulation, one of five of the Quantum Flagship's research themes. Quantum simulators study quantum systems, such as the atomic make-up of materials or chemical reactions, performing tasks that are too complex for the most powerful, transistor-based classical computers.

The classical computer's quantum cousin, the quantum computer, can perform the same tasks as a quantum simulator, but at a much grander scale. Quantum simulators hone in on very specific classes of problems, without the need for building a complex quantum computer, and so have less-demanding requirements, according to Dalmonte. "The idea of a quantum simulator starts from the fact that building a full-fledged quantum computer is a tough business. Can we solve meaningful problems with a machine that is not as complex as a quantum computer? That is the idea behind quantum simulators," he explains.

Studying the quantum characteristics of materials and chemical reactions could potentially lead to the design of new materials that could revolutionize such sectors as energy and transport, as well as lead to the design of new drugs.

Dalmonte and colleagues from the University of Padua are teaming up for their part of the project, joining an international consortium of research groups contributing to the overall quantum simulation stream, known as PASQuanS (Programmable Atomic Large-Scale Quantum Simulation). The EC has granted PASQuanS a three-year budget of just over €9 million.

PASQuans brings theorists and experimentalists together in the quest to advance quantum simulators. "On the experimental side," says Dalmonte,"they are trying to develop the technical parts that are required to have this quantum simulation work." Dalmonte instead is investigating the theoretical side, applying what is known about the behavior of atoms at the quantum scale to benchmark, verify, and potentially certify the functioning of such machines. "We are interested in questions like, how can we check if the simulators are properly working or not? Can we benchmark them in systematic ways? We are working on a series of theoretical aspects which are, most of the times, completely open, because these machines are relatively new."

Dalmonte admits that a full solution to these problems is beyond the scope of the three-year Quantum Flagship starting grant, however he believes that they could achieve a set of diagnostics that could be used to verify and, in some cases, certify quantum simulator results. Beyond the theoretical exercises, though, is the exciting opportunity to work with the experimentalists in the PASQuanS consortium. "We also want to go to the experimentalists and present some interesting problems for them to try," he says.

Indeed, Dalmonte sees this access to experimentalists as a key benefit to ICTP's participation in the Quantum Flagship programme. "This allows us at ICTP to have an immediate connection channel to a lot of top-level experiments, which I believe in this field is really fundamental."

About the Quantum Flagship

The Quantum Flagship was launched in 2018 as one of the largest and most ambitious research initiatives of the European Union. With a budget of €1 billion and a duration of 10 years, the flagship brings together research institutions, academia, industry, enterprises, and policy makers, in a joint and collaborative initiative on an unprecedented scale. The main objective of the Flagship is to consolidate and expand European scientific leadership and excellence in this research area as well as to transfer quantum physics research from the lab to the market by means of commercial applications and disruptive technologies. With over 5000 researchers from academia and industry involved in this initiative throughout its lifetime, it aims to create the next generation of disruptive technologies that will impact Europe’s society, placing the region as a worldwide knowledge-based industry and technological leader in this field.

--Mary Ann Williams

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