The University of Cambridge is a partner in the €1 billion Quantum Flagship, an EU-funded initiative to develop quantum technologies across Europe. 

The Flagships are the largest and most transformative investments in research of the European Union, and will cement the EU leadership in future and emerging technologies

Andrea Ferrari

The Quantum Flagship, which is being officially launched today in Vienna, is one of the most ambitious long-term research and innovation initiatives of the European Commission. It is funded under the Horizon 2020 programme, and will have a budget of €1 billion over the next ten years.                   

The Quantum Flagship is the third large-scale research and innovation initiative of this kind funded by the European Commission, after the Graphene Flagship – of which the University of Cambridge is a founding partner – and the Human Brain Project. The Quantum Flagship work in Cambridge is being coordinated by Professor Mete Atature of the Cavendish Laboratory and Professor Andrea Ferrari, Director of the Cambridge Graphene Centre.

Quantum technologies take advantage of the ability of particles to exist in more than one quantum state at a time. A quantum computer could enable us to make calculations that are well out of reach of even the most powerful supercomputers, while quantum secure communication could power ‘unhackable’ networks made safe by the laws of physics.

The long-term research goal is the so-called quantum web, where quantum computers, simulators and sensors are interconnected via quantum networks, distributing information and quantum resources such as coherence and entanglement.

The potential performance increase resulting from quantum technologies may yield unprecedented computing power, guarantee data privacy and communication security, and provide ultra-high precision synchronisation and measurements for a range of applications available to everyone, locally and in the cloud.

The new Quantum Flagship will bring together academic and industrial partners, with over 500 researchers working on solving these problems, and help turn the results into technological opportunities that can be taken up by industry.

In close partnership with UK, Italian, Spanish, Swedish universities and companies, Cambridge will develop layered quantum materials and devices for scalable integrated photonic circuits, for applications in quantum communication and networks.

Cambridge is investigating and refining layered semiconductors just a few atoms thick, based on materials known as transition metal dichalcogenides (TMDs). Certain TMDs contain quantum light sources that can emit single photons of light, which could be used in quantum computing and sensing applications.

These quantum light emitters occur randomly in layered materials, as is the case for most other material platforms. Over the past three years, the Cambridge researchers have developed a technique to obtain large-scale arrays of these quantum emitters in different TMDs and on a variety of substrates, establishing a route to build quantum networks on compact chips. The Cambridge team has also shown how to electrically control emission from these devices.

Additionally, the researchers have found that TMDs can support complex quasi-particles, called quintons. Quintons could be a source of entangled photons - particles of light which are intrinsically linked, no matter how far apart they are - if they can be trapped in quantum emitters.

These findings are the basis of the work being done in the Quantum Flagship, aimed at the development of scalable on-chip devices for quantum integrated photonic circuits, to enable secure quantum communications and quantum sensing applications.

“Our goal is to bring some of the amazing properties of the layered materials platform into the quantum technologies realm for a number of applications,” said Atature. “Achieving compact integrated quantum photonic circuits is a challenge pursued globally and our patented layered materials technology offers solutions to this challenge. This is a great project that combines quantum physics, optoelectronics and materials science to produce technology for the future.”

“Quantum technology is a key investment area for Europe, and layered materials show great promise for the generation and manipulation of quantum light for future technological advances,” said Ferrari. “The Graphene Flagship led the way for these large European Initiatives, and we are pleased to be part of the new Quantum Flagship. The Flagships are the largest and most transformative investments in research of the European Union, and will cement the EU leadership in future and emerging technologies.” 

Andrus Ansip, Commission Vice-President for the Digital Single Market, said: “Europe is determined to lead the development of quantum technologies worldwide. The Quantum Technologies Flagship project is part of our ambition to consolidate and expand Europe's scientific excellence. If we want to unlock the full potential of quantum technologies, we need to develop a solid industrial base making full use of our research.”

Inset images: Mete Atature and Andrea Ferrari; Artist’s impression of on-chip quantum photonics architecture with single photon sources and nonlinear switches on optical waveguides, credit Matteo Barbone.

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