Steering towards the age of quantum

01 May 2023
Matthew Peach

Photonics technologies underpin a new world of quantum developments. But besides the challenge of making these solutions market-ready, quantum champions need also to prepare potential users and society at large for the new ways of working.

 “Quantum innovation and quantum markets are emerging worldwide,” said Celia Merzbacher, executive director of the Quantum Economic Development Consortium (QED-C). She was speaking at Quantum West 2023, part of SPIE Photonics West. The occasion was to announce foundation of the International Council of Quantum Industry Associations.

The new council comprises quantum associations from around the world, including Quantum Industry Canada, Quantum Strategic Industry Alliance for Revolution (Q-STAR), and the European Quantum Industry Consortium (QuIC). Merzbacher added, “The formation of this council creates lines of communication and collaboration that will help our members to develop supply chains, open markets, exchange talent, and support policies that benefit the emerging industry and society.”

At the same launch, Thierry Botter, executive director of QuIC, said, “We are at the beginning of a global technological revolution. Forming this council and working together promotes equity and reciprocity in the advancement of the international quantum ecosystem. It will allow our communities to discuss areas of common interests, such as international standards, intellectual property, and access to funding.”

In February, Australia’s Chief Scientist Cathy Foley gave a “quantum in action” speech at Quantum Australia 2023. She declared, “Quantum is now on the radar of governments, investors, and forward-thinking businesses, who understand how transformative it will be in so many areas. Quantum technologies are already impacting medicine through better imaging. They’re changing our ability to see through barriers, into geological formations, as well as into cells. Quantum optimization is already making a difference in freight and logistics.”

A range of Australian-headquartered companies are manufacturing quantum technologies and selling them worldwide. For example, Quantum Brilliance is developing diamond-based room-temperature quantum computing, and working with the Pawsey supercomputer in Western Australia to host the world’s first diamond quantum accelerator. QuintessenceLabs is selling quantum-based cybersecurity solutions to customers globally. It develops quantum random number generators that produce cryptographic keys for cybersecurity. Another company, Q-Ctrl, provides firmware for quantum error correction that improves performance of quantum computing and quantum sensing hardware.

Quantum initiatives announced over the past few years in North America and Europe have committed billions of dollars and euros for quantum research and innovation as well as industrial development of novel applications. New markets are as diverse as physics itself: quantum computing, in vivo biomedical imaging, ultrasecure optical communications, underground mapping through the Earth, and gravity wave detection, to name a few. All of these challenges-turned-markets have one feature in common: the interdependence of quantum and photonics technologies.

For this wave of global quantum initiatives, the first country out of the blocks was the UK, which set up the National Quantum Technologies Programme (UKNQTP) in 2013. Its mission is “to translate academic work on quantum mechanics, and the effects of quantum superposition and quantum entanglement into new products and services.” Over the past decade, the UKNQTP has brought together UK physicists and engineers with companies and entrepreneurs who are working to commercialize the technology.

Notable efforts include those of Najwa Sidqi, of Innovate UK Knowledge Transfer Network. Her mission there is to raise awareness about quantum sciences and their applications to end user sectors.

Sidqi tells Photonics Focus, “Worldwide there is a big, competitive quantum race going on. I think a lot of countries have learned important lessons from the UKNQTP program. This was followed by other countries launching similar programs, and by about two years ago almost every major nation plus the EU had established a significant quantum development program.”

Sidqi emphasizes the importance of photonics to the quantum sector: “The photonics industry is a key enabler, from providing laser alignment to optical filters, for example. Everything that touches applications like quantum imaging, quantum computing, and quantum sensing involves the photonics industry. There are many single- photon generation and detection technologies—critical to quantum systems—that also rely on photonics. So, the photonics industry is a vital driver of the quantum sector.”

People who are already working in areas connected to quantum and photonics should be familiar with the concepts and potential of such integrated solutions to yield greater results in diverse applications. But surely the wider industrial sector is still mystified about the terminology, never mind its potential.

Sidqi says, “We are still at a very low level of awareness from the broader end user sector about quantum and how it can be useful. I think there’s only a very small minority of top businesses out there that can afford to have that understanding and knowledge about how quantum can be useful to them, enough to invest in some piece of quantum technology or collaborate with research in the universities.”

“I think we need a broader awareness about quantum,” Sidqi continues. “There is still a lot of work to be done so my role is to raise awareness about what is quantum and what it can do. My personal commitment is towards pushing for adoption of quantum technologies by industry and also by society.  So I envisage more collaborations happening towards accelerating the adoption of quantum. Adoption is a term that’s a bit neglected; we often talk about commercialization, but I think we should push for adopting quantum.”

Raising awareness of the capabilities of quantum solutions while  also making them acceptable to industry and wider society are key to transitioning relatively painlessly to the age of quantum, Foley said in a Quantum West 2023 plenary talk entitled “How can quantum technology save the world? An Australian perspective.”

She told the audience at Photonics West: “One step that’s going to be important for the quantum community is consumer engagement with the design of products. For example, at Apple, Steve Jobs designed his own fonts for the products, which was part of his goal to make the technology more acceptable to consumers. This will also be the case with quantum developments: for quantum solutions to become ubiquitous, they will need to be easy to use. Consumers won’t be so much interested in how the technology works as in the applications.”

Foley also tackled the importance of applying clear regulation and standards to quantum developments: “There are important safety and ethics considerations with quantum, as there are with any other developments that have significant social impact. So, we need to consider and discuss quantum issues in the same way—to actively engage with the people who will become the consumers of future quantum technologies.”

Matthew Peach is Editor-in-Chief of


Enjoy this article?
Get similar news in your inbox
Get more stories from SPIE
Recent News
Sign in to read the full article
Create a free SPIE account to get access to
premium articles and original research