Shaping the future of quantum technology

23 July 2019 | Research - Insights

An example of the quantum instruments Assoc Prof Alexander Ling develops for use in nanosatellites

Established in 2007, the Centre for Quantum Technologies (CQT) was the first Research Centre of Excellence in Singapore. It was founded with the goal of bringing physicists, engineers and computer scientists together for research into fundamental quantum phenomena. Through this dedication to interdisciplinary collaboration, it continues to be a major force in the world of quantum technology today. 

To date, the Centre’s researchers have contributed to some 2,000 scientific papers, participated in projects winning over S$40 million in external grants and established a handful of start-ups. They have also built collaborations with local business, reached out to the public through art-science projects and trained over 60 PhD students in quantum technologies. 

Discussing the success story of CQT, Professor Artur Ekert, the founding Director and one of the global pioneers of ‘quantum cryptography’, commented, “Even though CQT was given licence to do basic research, we still expect to be asked what our research is good for. Here in Singapore, we now have collaborations with industry and we are starting to see investments in spin-offs that are developing quantum products.”

Looking forward to the future of these quantum technologies, he continued, “Scientists like to be cautious about predictions. I am confident predicting that, as we can control more and more quantum systems, there will be many applications — but the field’s commercial potential in five to ten years is anyone’s guess.” With this in mind, the scientists at CQT are pushing the limits of today’s quantum technology, to reveal applications previously never thought of.


Quantum systems in space


Associate Professor Alexander Ling is an expert in quantum communications, leading high-profile work on quantum satellites and collaborating with Singtel. “Our group is working to bring optical quantum technology out of the lab and into the field — and even into orbit,” he said. 

“For the quantum satellite instrument development, we tie many different branches of physics together. Our work involves a lot of system design and integration, low-power radiation-tolerant electronics and opto-mechanical design,” he explained. 

The group has already launched two nanosatellites. They first tested their quantum instruments in space on the NUS satellite Galassia that launched in 2015. Most recently, they built a quantum satellite dubbed SpooQy-1 that was deployed into orbit from the International Space Station on 17 June. Some researchers in the project team have established a spin-off company in Singapore, called SpeQtral, to further develop quantum technology for secure communication.

Assoc Prof Ling anticipates that integrated photonics will play a large role in the miniaturisation of quantum systems in future applications. “Our team also has an effort aimed at studying waveguide structures as sources of quantum entanglement, as well as studying how complete experiments may be fabricated on a single chip,” he said.


Quantum Lego blocks


One of the newest Principal Investigators at the Centre is Assistant Professor Loh Huanqian. She is a National Research Foundation Fellow, recently won a Singapore L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship and was selected by the World Economic Forum to be in the Class of 2019 Young Scientists. Asst Prof Loh’s current research focusses on the control of ultracold molecules for understanding advanced materials.

Asst Prof Loh explained, “Superconductors are an example of advanced materials that can potentially impact the way we transport energy. However, their dynamics on the microscopic scale remain poorly understood as they are difficult to simulate with classical computers.” 

A promising solution is to assemble ultracold atoms and molecules as quantum building blocks to mimic these advanced materials, and directly observe the dynamics in these clean systems. “Ultracold molecules, in particular, offer rich interactions compared to atoms, making them highly versatile ‘Lego bricks’ for quantum simulation,” she said.

As such, Asst Prof Loh’s lab focusses on the manipulation of molecules at the single-molecule, single-quantum-state level. “To access this regime, we will develop methods to precisely control the motion, internal quantum states and spatial arrangement of individual molecules,” she explained. 

By working at the exciting intersection of atomic physics and quantum chemistry, the group plans to harness these ultracold molecules for explorations of new condensed matter phases, quantum information storage and more.


Quantum computing innovations


Principal Investigator and Research Associate Professor Dimitris G. Angelakis is an expert in implementations of quantum computation and simulation. He is known for his pioneering work in quantum simulators using light-matter systems. He received the Google Quantum Innovation Prize in 2018.

Assoc Prof Angelakis explained the nature of his team’s work. “Classical computers require enormous computing power and memory to simulate even the most modest quantum systems. Instead, we could use another more controllable and perhaps artificial quantum system as a ‘quantum simulator’,” he said.

These quantum computers and simulators are expected to go beyond applications in the quantum regime, and will be able to solve difficult classical problems too. Assoc Prof Angelakis explained, “Our work is focused in designing new algorithms and software for near-term quantum devices which could have applications in a variety of areas such as quantum chemistry, material science, machine learning and AI and data science in general.” 

In Assoc Prof Angelakis’ current research, he described that his team, “works with all quantum platforms and more recently we have focussed on superconducting quantum circuits, room temperature light-matter systems and integrated photonic chips.” Assoc Prof Angelakis also holds a joint appointment with the Technical University of Crete, Greece. 


These quantum technologies are just some of the ways CQT is pioneering innovations in this area. The researchers predict advances in communications, material and data science and computing with major impacts for society, but the unpredictable outcomes could be even more exciting. The Centre’s Director Prof Ekert believes that, “the applications we see eventually for quantum technologies will be beyond today’s imagination. This is why, even as CQT builds connections with the commercial world to translate the technology that’s ready, we continue with fundamental research.”