The second coming of quantum

Positioning Canada as a leader in coming quantum nanotechnology revolution.

Jennifer Pascoe - 27 November 2017

A new graduate program at the University of Alberta is focused on producing scientists who will revolutionize the information and communications sector through quantum technology, both by leading research and development in established industries and by starting companies of their own.

"Quantum technology is a field on a precipice," said John P. Davis, University of Alberta physics professor and program lead of QUANTA. QUANTA--quantum nanotechnology training in Alberta--is supported by NSERC's CREATE (collaborative research and training experience) program and will be hosted by the Universities of Alberta and Calgary.

"In the next five to 10 years, we expect that quantum will disrupt many existing technologies. It remains to be seen which 'Quantum Age' technologies will dominate, but one thing is certain: society will need highly trained physicists and engineers capable of leading these advances, both in academic and industrial settings."

The motivation behind the new program is to tilt graduate training on its axis, creating graduates ready for business and industry, instead of the traditional route of academia.

"We're trying to fill this gap in graduate training, because more and more, students are entering the technology industry or becoming entrepreneurs. We need to train them how to survive and thrive in that world."

The new program will foster innovation, management, and entrepreneurship skills, preparing graduates to found and advance quantum technology companies, solidifying Canada's central role in leading the Quantum Age. With features like professional skills and business planning development, internships with industry partners, and micro-grants, or seed money, to support students turning their business ideas into reality, this is grad school done differently, designed to develop students for careers in the quantum technology sector.

"We are in coming into the second quantum era. Where we first had these fundamentals of quantum physics a hundred years ago, we are now at the point where we understand quantum physics and are developing quantum technology to take to the marketplace."

Davis said Canada is well-positioned to be a big industrial driver of this second coming of quantum, noting the success of companies such as D-Wave Systems, a maker of quantum computers, and the nanoFAB, based at the University of Alberta, one of the world's leading nanofabrication facilities.

"Canada is in a really strong place, but we have to continue to act to sustain and push that position further. We have a society that is open to new technology, and we have funding agencies who are interested in pushing forward not just in science but also technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship. The ingredients are all there to support a real revolution in quantum technology in Canada."

Another focus of the program, in addition to developing industry-ready grads, is diversity. "By encouraging and supporting diversity in QUANTA students, we're contributing to diversity in the quantum industry as a whole," said Davis. "That means incorporating best practices in our program to recruit the best and brightest students--of all backgrounds."

Quanta involves a collaboration between six principal investigators, John P. Davis and Lindsay LeBlanc from the U of A's Department of Physics, Ray DeCorby from the U of A's Faculty of Engineering, and Paul Barclay, Christoph Simon, and Wolfgang Tittel from the University of Calgary.

The research goals of this collaboration are focused long-term of the establishment of a coast-to-coast quantum network for Canadian governments, businesses, academia, the health industry, and individual citizens. To that end, they received funding earlier this fall via the Canada Foundation for Innovation to focus on the development of quantum networks, which allow transmitting quantum information over thousands of kilometres, enabling secure communication and unprecedented computational performance.