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Quantum opportunity: how research funders are making a difference to quantum technology

katarina bjelke

Earlier this year, 22 countries published a call for applications for a project grant for international research collaboration on quantum technologies. The Swedish Research Council’s call, known as QuantERA, set out that applicants should be from at least four countries. This in itself would not necessarily be remarkable. However, juxtaposed with other developments linked to the Swedish Research Council and research on quantum technology, it paints an interesting picture about the value placed on cross-disciplinary and international collaboration in this new and emerging area.

Looking across the piece

What are these other developments? First, back in March this year, there was an announcement of a collaboration between the Swedish Research Council and other players, including RISE, Swelife, Vinnova and the Wallenberg Centre for Quantum Technology (WACQT). The purpose was to draw up a Swedish agenda for quantum technology, to strengthen Sweden’s opportunities for collaboration and joint prioritisation on this issue. 

The Swedish Research Council has also demonstrated its willingness to look beyond the boundaries of traditional science. Katarina Bjelke, the Director General of the Council, has been clear about its priorities.

“We fund basic research in all areas: science, humanities and the arts. I think in these times, it is extra important to take in knowledge from all scientific fields and look at the wider picture. We have been using a strapline on social media about the need for a wiser world, and I think that this is extremely important in times where scepticism about facts is growing around the world. Apart from basic research the research council also support strategic research and research infrastructure like high performance computing resources, which is of course particularly important for quantum technology.”

It is therefore clear that the Swedish Research Council believes that collaboration—across disciplines and internationally—is crucial as a general principle, and particularly in the development of quantum technology. Katarina notes that European participation is an important element of developing quantum technology.

“Sweden would like to get even more participation in the EU programmes. We are trying to promote Swedish researchers and train them to try to apply for money from the EU. EU funding is national funding, because it comes from each country. Participating is important for the money, but the most important thing is the collaboration that you can take part in and the great science that this generates.”

Katarina Bjelke vid kvantdator

She adds that the Council is not just looking to Europe, but also aims to build links elsewhere, such as with the US Quantum Initiative and the US National Science Foundation in Washington. Sweden is now one of more than ten countries working with the Quantum Initiative, and discussing potential collaboration, although nothing has yet been decided.

Building on success

Quantum technology is widely seen as a crucial technology that is likely to drive important developments in the future. The general feeling is that Sweden cannot afford to fall behind. Katarina notes that Sweden is already doing well on quantum technology research, a view echoed in a recent interview with Per Delsing, programme director of the Wallenberg Centre for Quantum Technology. Katerina commented:

“Quantum is an emerging area where a lot of the research questions are still very basic. I would say that the Swedish quantum research is generally of very high quality and of high visibility. However, if we can support this area even more, I think we could also spread the knowledge on what might be possible with the technology and how it can be used in a lot of different ways in the future. We feel that it’s important to fund this area and to try to get a broader knowledge about the possibilities.”

Katarina notes that one of the most interesting aspects of quantum technology is the wide range of potential applications in both life sciences and elsewhere.

“There are several areas where you can see that quantum probably will be important and a technique that will be used in the future. This is where we come back to the importance of interdisciplinary research, for example, between life sciences and technology. I’d like to see people working on this getting much closer to life sciences researchers, and vice versa, to see the possibilities. I think this is one important area.”

As difficult it is for many of us to understand the science behind quantum , we only need to understand the possibilities and the constraints of it.”