Everyone thinks they understand quantum theory. Or rather, everyone thinks they understand how hard it is to actually get one’s head around. After all, that’s what the experts themselves keep on saying – take Nobel laureate Niels Bohr, for example, who wrote: “If quantum mechanics hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it,” or Richard Feynman, who is alleged to have added: “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics.”
But this image of quantum theory as an impossible complex theoretical discipline, full of abstract mathematics and seemingly absurd predictions, is only one facet of the true picture.
The other side of Schrödinger’s coin, as it were, reveals a branch of physics with far-reaching practical applications, underpinning everything from mobile phones to blu-ray players and beyond. The understanding of the quantum world that developed in the 20th Century informed most of the technology we now take for granted in the 21st – and there is every reason to believe that a second revolution of equal value may be just around the corner.
In November 2013, the government’s autumn budget allocated 270 million pounds towards the development of a UK Quantum Technology Programme, making it the single biggest investment in a disruptive technology of the modern era.
This investment has gone towards the establishment of four Quantum Technology Hubs in Oxford, Birmingham, York and Glasgow, and a Quantum Metrology Institute at the National Physical Laboratory on the outskirts of London.
This Monday, representatives from the different institutions across the national network convened at the Ambassadors Hotel in Bloomsbury to introduce their work to any and all interested parties, and to begin the collaborations that will be crucial to the Programme’s success.
Organised by the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) in partnership with Innovate UK, the ‘Meet the Hubs’ event was a unique opportunity to learn about one of the most exciting funding programmes underway in today’s STEM ecosystem.
In the words of David Delpy, Chairman of the Programme’s Strategic Advisory Board, we are standing on the cusp of Quantum 2.0. These technologies, spanning every sector from entertainment to telecommunications and manufacturing to transport, have the potential to become a billion-pound industry in their own right. The risks associated with letting this opportunity pass us by while other countries start to pull ahead are too great to contemplate.
Over the past decades, the UK quantum community has moved into a unique position to deliver on the promise of its research. Not only is the country’s science base particularly well-developed in this area, but the UK also benefits from an industrial sector that is both interested and intrigued by the possibilities on offer, and a public increasingly curious to find out more.
Although the governmental funding is set to last until 2019, it is hoped that the collaborations and partnerships that emerge from the Programme will stretch well beyond that. Exciting opportunities are fast becoming available for UK companies to benefit from the country’s leading quantum experts, and to enable a step change in their respective technologies.
Understanding the smallest objects in the Universe has never seemed more important.
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