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UK science chief urges quantum-technologies boost

01 Dec 2016
Quantum leap: Mark Walport calls for more funding

UK industry should increase its level of investment in quantum technologies, according to a report compiled by the country’s chief scientific adviser, Mark Walport. The publication – The Quantum Age: technological opportunities – makes 11 recommendations to boost quantum technology in the UK, including a call for the five-year £270m National Quantum Technologies Programme to continue beyond 2018.

The report, which features contributions from government, industry and academic experts, says that increased investment from industry would boost the level of commitment to the programme and help to accelerate commercialization.

Early investor

The UK is among the world leaders in quantum research and technology, currently investing around £60m annually in the field – the fourth largest funder after China, the US and Germany. The National Quantum Technologies Programme, which was launched in 2013, is based around four university-led “hubs”, and is one of the earliest and largest investments in the world.

“The UK is playing a leading role in the research and development of quantum technologies,” says Walport, adding: “Quantum timekeeping, imaging, sensing, communications and computing have the potential to generate a large array of valuable new products and services.”

We cannot afford to fall at the last hurdle – new business creation
Jeremy O’Brien, University of Bristol

“Internationally, other governments and companies are becoming interested in the technology,” Richard Murray, lead technologist for emerging technologies and industries at Innovate UK, who contributed to the report, told Physics World. “So the time is right for the UK to really push forward with the innovation and commercial side of the quantum-technologies programme, as well as continuing to support the science underpinning it, so that we stay ahead of this important new industry.”

In addition to increased industry investment and the continuation of the programme, the report also recommends the setting up of innovation centres, similar to the Fraunhofer institutes in Germany and the Battelle institutes in the US, and improved co-ordination of activities at a national level.

Favourable market

Jeremy O’Brien, director of the Centre for Quantum Photonics at the University of Bristol, who was not involved with the review, told Physics World he is “very pleased” with the report’s findings and recommendations. He adds that if the UK is to remain world-leading, then as well as increasing investment, the government “needs to ensure that legislation and an accessible free market remain favourable” for companies.

“We cannot afford to fall at the last hurdle – new business creation,” says O’Brien. “The government must encourage a new culture among UK venture-capital firms that is welcoming of larger-scale investments in high-risk hardware companies, particularly in quantum technologies. Otherwise we risk falling foul of the old story of invented here and exploited elsewhere.”

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