EPSRC puts £12m into quantum research

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The quantum world, as this writer has mentioned many times, is inclined to make your brain hurt. And it’s a topic that led legendary scientist Richard Feynman to claim, in 1964, that: “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.”

It’s probably safe to say that scientists have a better understanding of the quantum world today, but the question is ‘just how much better?’. What we think is that if we can harness some of the theoretical benefits of the quantum world, we might create a range of quantum based technologies. But the work, in many cases, looks to the outsider like wrestling with shadows.

Quantum technology is something the UK government is keen on exploiting; in his Autumn 2013 statement, Chancellor George Osborne announced that research into all things quantum would receive funding to the tune of £270million, allowing things going on in labs around the country to be commercialised.

Now, EPRSC – which is channelling the money – has announced 10 fellowships to help bring quantum technology closer to real world applications.

Just looking at the list of topics makes your head spin – included are: spin photon systems for scalable quantum processors; quantum integrated non linear technologies that can change the ‘colour’ of a photon; imaging using sparse single photon data; and a hybrid atom-photon superconductor quantum interface.

Here’s another thing we don’t know about the quantum world: when will these projects might come to fruition? Academic research, sometimes, takes as long as it takes.

Quantum mechanics is full of strange goings on, including superposition, when an atom can do two different things at once, and entanglement, where particles at different ends of the universe will retain a connection. Schrodinger’s Cat is a classic example of the apparent contradictions of the quantum world

The late Terry Pratchett alluded to Schrodinger’s thought experiment in one of his Discworld books. “The mere act of opening the box will determine the state of the cat, although in this case there were three determinate states the cat could be in: these being Alive, Dead and Bloody Furious.”