The United States has Silicon Valley, the UK has Silicon Roundabout and Silicon Fen, but what about Scotland – technically part of the United Kingdom? Famous for some of the best universities around, so it should be no surprise that Quantum technologies feature heavily in the portfolio. Welcome to Quantum Glen. It’s not all Whiskey and Tartan…
When people think of quantum computing, their minds often go to the US, China, or Continental Europe. There is nothing wrong with this, seeing as companies like IBM have offices and facilities in all three regions. However, there is a hidden power in the world of quantum technology, which is the country of Scotland.
According to Australia’s National Science Research Agency, the quantum sector will be worth $86 billion by 2040. While quantum computers will likely not replace classical computers for decades, it is still projected to be worth £40 billion a year, compared to the £79 billion of the classical computer industry. It is even possible that quantum and classical computers will have to coexist.
Some experts are more optimistic, claiming that by 2025 the quantum computing sector will be worth $770 million. Between 2017 and 2018, $450 million was invested in the quantum computing industry. Whether or not the quantum industry is a bubble is currently uncertain, as a lot of it is still up in the air.
It would not be strange to see why Scotland as a place for quantum innovation. The Scots themselves are hardy and inventive people and birthed some of the greatest inventors. Alexander Graham Bell who invented the telephone was Scottish. So were James Watt the inventor of the Watt steam engine and James Clerk Maxwell, the father of electromagnetism, among many other luminaries of science and technology.
Scottish Quantum Landscape
In Scotland, many scientists their industry partners are hard at work, trying to come up with new developments.
One might wonder why Scotland of all places? This is because not only does Scotland have at least four universities that have dedicated resources to quantum technology research, but the British government is also actively supporting efforts for quantum development. We will have other articles discussing the companies and universities in the quantum industry in great detail. For now, there will be brief descriptions.
The British government is not only enthusiastic about the Scottish quantum sector, but it has even supported the scientists and companies through its £1 billion UK National Quantum Technologies Programme. This programme aims to propel the UK to become a leading quantum authority in 10 years.
The University of Glasgow is the leader of QuantIC, which is one of four quantum technology hubs the UK quantum programme is funding. Some of the areas QunatIC is involved in are quantum sensing, imaging, secure communications, and computing. According to Hatton, QuantIC combines the expertise of the ‘universities of Glasgow, Bristol, Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt, Southampton, Imperial College, Exeter and Strathclyde with more than 30 industry partners’. The main focus of this group is on quantum enhanced imaging in the form of ultra-sensitive cameras that can see through smoke, visualise gas leaks, or even look around corners and underneath human skin.
The national UK supercomputer is also hosted in the University of Glasgow, and it is worth £79 million.
Other than the University of Glasgow, the other universities are also very involved with the quantum technology sector. Many of them are involved in a £10 million project to build the first commercially-viable quantum computer, including the University of Glasgow and the University of Strathclyde. This is one sign among many of a healthy quantum ecosystem, one that can rely on resources to do great things.
With the existence of the International Graduate School for Quantum Technologies, we can also see that not only is Scotland strong in quantum development, but also quantum education. Backed by the University of Strathclyde, University of Glasgow, and Herriot Watt University, this Graduate School aims to provide education for those interested in quantum physics. As these three universities are established experts in the field, there is no doubt that students will learn much about quantum physics and potentially get a job related to quantum technology.
The universities working together are giving Scotland a unique quantum edge, one that is predicted to be worth $65 billion by 2030.
Of note is also Scotland’s nanotechnology and photonics sectors, which are known all around the world as leading regions and crucial for technological development.
Scottish Quantum Companies and Quantum Collaboration
Many companies such as Fraunhofer and M Squared also have facilities in Scotland. For example, Fraunhofer has a Centre for Applied Photonics, which is located at the University of Strathclyde. The researchers at Fraunhofer are partnering up with the University of Strathclyde to work on quantum photonics.
It is not uncommon for Scottish quantum experts to work with international experts either. The International Max Planck Partnership, or IMPP, consists of five Scottish universities and five German Max Planck Institutes working together. By collaborating with world-renown quantum authorities, Scotland can enhance its own quantum sector through mutual learning.
We discussed Scotland’s place in the quantum technology sector worldwide. Now we will shift the focus to the many universities located in Scotland. They are the country’s future and hope when it comes to quantum computing due to factors such as government support and research efforts.
Scottish Universities working on Quantum Tech
University of Glasgow
We mentioned that the University of Glasgow was highly involved in the Scottish quantum sector in Part 1, particularly on how it leads QuantIC and is focused on quantum enhanced imaging. While this is a very impressive position for the University of Glasgow, it is not the only organisation it is a member of. In fact, the university is even a member of the Quantum Communications Hub.
While QuantIC is focusing on quantum enhanced imaging, Quantum Communications Hub will be working on ultra-secure encrypted quantum communications that use quantum key distribution to keep messages and all data secure from any unwanted eyes. This method is currently unhackable.
Professor Beaumont, who is also Director of QuantIC, is also knowledgeable on the University of Glasgow’s quantum efforts. He was awarded an OBE (the second highest honour Order of the British Empire) in 2002 for his research in nanotechnology and nanoelectrics. He believes that both technologies are intimately linked to quantum technology, as the latter contains a lot of the former within its inner workings.
Other than being involved in Scottish quantum technology sectors and programmes, the University of Glasgow has also been working with Université de Sherbrooke in Canada in the UK Canada Quantum Technology Programme.
In August 2020, the University of Glasgow announced the SPIE Early Career Researcher Accelerator Fund in Quantum Photonics in collaboration with SPIE. A total of $500,000 from SPIE in the form of funds was matched by the university, totaling $1 million for the support of students working in the field of quantum photonics.
University of Strathclyde
Another university heavily involved in Scottish quantum is the University of Strathclyde, located in Glasgow as well. Its expertise is in photonics, and it has the honour of being a partner in all four hubs of the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme. As a result, it has a hand in multiple projects at once in all four hubs. Sensing, imaging, secure communications, and computing, the university does it all. The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund by the British government also funds the University of Strathclyde.
The Challange Fund’s projects include a UK-wide £5.4 million project to speed up the manufacturing pace of electric vehicle batteries and a £4.6 million quantum computing project. These would benefit security in banks, advance traffic management systems, and even develop novel materials the aerospace industry can use.
The partnership of the University of Strathclyde and the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund also includes making better drugs for healthcare and speeding up optimisation problems in energy distribution across the National Grid, making it more efficient to do so.
One of the consortia the University of Strathclyde is Responsive Operations for Key Services (ROKS), which managed to win £345,000 from the UK Space Agency. This consortium aims to develop a new quantum secure communications solution. In November 2020, the university joined DISCOVERY, a £10 million, 3-year programme to make commercial quantum computing a reality.
The Fraunhofer Centre for Applied Photonics is hosted in the University of Strathclyde as well. This has allowed the university to work with Fraunhofer, which is the leader of QT Assemble, a £10 million project funded by Innovate UK. The project will speed up quantum usage in many different fields and make practical quantum solutions a reality.
Truly, being in all four Quantum Technology hubs in Scotland has allowed the University of Strathclyde to work on many different projects.
University of Edinburgh
The University of Edinburgh is another powerhouse university heavily involved in the Scottish quantum community. For starters, it is a member of the Quantum Computing & Simulation Hub (QCS Hub), which is led by the University of Oxford. It has also assisted Rigetti UK on the £10 million project to build the UK’s first quantum computer.
ARCHER, the UK’s national supercomputer, calls the University of Edinburgh home. This is another piece of evidence that shows how Scotland is a technological powerhouse. ARCHER has been conducting powerful simulations for years as well.
The School of Informatics is a world-famous computer science research centre and institute, and the UK’s largest quantum research groups are also a part of it. Other than quantum languages and quantum machine learning, the School is researching quantum internet networks.
In 2018, Dr. Myrto Arapinis and Professor Elham Kashefi were awarded $1.6 million by the American Air Force Office of Scientific Research. This was for the Air Force’s ‘Entrapping Machines’ project. It goes to show how the American Air Force recognises the quantum expertise of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Informatics.
In December 2020, the University of Sussex used quantum technology to explore ways to improve battery performance. The University of Edinburgh was also a partner in this project, which is awarded the University of Birmingham’s Partnership Resource Funding, UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing. This is relatively recent as of publishing time, showing how Edinburgh is active in the quantum sector not just in Scotland.
Compared to the above three universities, Heriot-Watt University does not get to be in the limelight as often, but it should not be underestimated. This university boasts a competent quantum science and photonics institute. The Institute of Photonics and Quantum Sciences (IPAQS) constantly carries out research in both fields.
Other than being an excellent place for postgraduate research, the IPAQS has even spun out successful photonics companies like Edinburgh Instruments, Helia Photonics, and PowerPhotonic.
In 2019, a Heriot-Watt quantum science team performed an experiment that proved the ‘Wigner’s Friend’ thought experiment right. The test involved producing two different ‘realities’ and then comparing them. Both realities could not agree on an objective fact about the same experiment.
For more recent news, on December 21, 2020, it was reported that the university signed a 5-year strategic deal with Chromacity, a maker of ultra-fast lasers. Both parties will pool their resources together and commence research into commercial photonics applications, potentially including quantum optics.
While Heriot-Watt University might not be as big a powerhouse of quantum technology, it has still managed to punch hard in the research department. The university enjoys close ties with several quantum photonics companies as well. One would be wise to give it rightful respect instead of underestimating this university.
While there are other universities that make up the quantum technology sector in Scotland, these four are among the most well-known of them all. Each of them has accomplishments that drive the global quantum community to new heights. Scotland does indeed have strong universities that play major roles in the local quantum industry and even beyond.
Interestingly, while all four of these universities are separate entities and there is friendly competition between them, some of them share quantum groups in common. However, there is one group that all four universities are members of, that is the Quantum Information Scotland Network (QUISCO). This informal organisation was founded in 2008, with the goal of bringing together quantum experts from all disciplines and fields. All researchers are encouraged to join, even students.
Yet another organisation that some of these universities are involved in is the Scottish Centre for Innovation in Quantum Computing and Simulation (SCIQCS). The Universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Strathclyde are proud members. Members of the SCIQCS collaborate and pool together their knowledge to further the boundaries of quantum computing. From running workshops to meeting with industry figures, the members, all academia, will work with both international and local quantum experts.
Three of the Centre’s goals are developing full, scalable systems for neutral quantum computing, quantum simulations, and superconducting qubit architectures and quantum chips.
Other than its universities, Scotland is home to many strong quantum technology companies. M Squared holds the honour of being the most famous Scottish quantum company. There are also others which will be mentioned later on.
M Squared has repeatedly made headlines in the news this year in 2020. In November, the company announced that it would be leading the largest UK industry-led quantum computing project, DISCOVERY. The programme is worth £10 million and will last for 3 years. Innovate UK has even funded DISCOVERY.
Even before DISCOVERY, Scottish Enterprise has granted the company $3.5 million dollars as a R&D grant to pursue its quantum technology and photonics research project. Said project was valued at $8.5 million dollars, or £7 million pounds. This boost would even allow M Squared to compete at a global level with larger companies around the world.
CEO Dr. Graeme Malcolm OBE is himself a physicist with much experience. He first gained an undergraduate degree before graduating from the University of Strathclyde with a Ph.D. in solid-state lasers. Prior to forming M Square, Dr. Malcolm had worked in different photonics and optics companies such as Coherent, and Microlase Optical Systems Ltd., which he founded.
The company has a large number of awards and grants that would be too numerous to list here. Nevertheless, M Squared is the Scottish quantum company that has the most potential. Few companies in Scotland can compare to its various accolades and accomplishments.
Founded by Dr. Brendan Casey, CEO, Kelvin Nanotechnology (KNT) has close ties with the University of Glasgow. Dr. Casey graduated from the university with a Ph.D. in Bioelectrics, which is where his expertise comes from. In 2006, he managed to set up KNT through the James Watt Nanofabrication Centre at the university, where KNT would be a facility in the UK’s Micro and Nanotechnology (MNT) Facilities Network.
Since then, Dr. Casey has worked with 170 companies in 23 countries, supplying advanced quantum components and photonics to them. Some of these components are specialised DFB lasers and 3D ion traps. When the University of Glasgow collaborated with the Université de Sherbrooke in Canada, KNT provided its technological insight and knowledge needed to develop quantum sensing and quantum computing technologies.
KNT is also involved in the DISCOVERY project due to its ties with the University of Glasgow.
A spin-out of Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh Instruments manufactures cutting edge spectroscopic instruments that have been used in various spectroscopy markets such as photoluminescence, Raman, and more. Edinburgh Instruments has a global clientele and has also been involved in various scientific fields and research. It was founded by Professor S. D. Smith OBE FRS, FRSE, FinstP in 1971.
Some of its spectrometers have been used in quantum experiments, such as the FLS1000.
Professor Fedor Karpushko founded UniKLasers in 2013, after serving as Deputy Director at the Academy of Belarus and working with many pioneers of laser technology such as Nikolay Basov and Charles Townes. UniKLasers is an expert in photonics and optoelectronics, particlarly in its proprietary BRaMMS Technology. It also enjoys close relationships with Heriot-Watt University, the Centre for Applied Photonics, and Technology Scotland.
In June 2020, the company was awarded a £750,000 grant. This was to help UniKLasers speed up the commercialisation of quantum technology applications. Before this grant, the Scottish Investment Bank has provided the same amount to the company, increasing the total amount of funding since 2017 to £2.3 million pounds. CTO Professor Karpushko was delighted at this development.
This would make it the fifth time Innovate UK has funded a UniKLasers project.
Helia Photonics was formed by Dr. Caspar Clark and Professor Gerald Buller. He graduated with a BSc in Physics & Microelectronics in 1997 before working in optical companies such as Terahertz Photonics Ltd. and Thales Optronics. Heli Photonics was born after the former ran out of funding. For the last 18 years, Helia Photonics has delievered various technologies related to photonics, such as micro-optics and specialised facet coatings for diode lasers.
Prior to founding Helia Photonics, Dr. Clark has worked on quantum projects with Professor Buller at Heriot-Watt University. Eventually, after forming Helia, they managed to secure £1.5 million to support them in the early stages of growth. Currently, the company has more than 350 customers worldwide and an 8,000 square foot facility.
One of Helia Photonics’ active projects is GaNAmP, which will eventually allow quantum technologies such as optical clocks and gravimeters to be commercialised. The solution is a 461nm high-power, single mode, integrated GaN LD and GaN optical amplifier solution. This is suitable for atomic clocks. The project has received funding from Innovate UK.
Helia is also a founding member of Technology Scotland, which supports many quantum technology development efforts.
The quantum sector in Scotland is a remarkable and unique ecosystem compared to other communities. Other than having a diverse habitat of many different companies that provide quantum services, the many universities that also do this offer quantum technology courses to students as well. This makes Scotland a viable place both for the development and education of quantum technology. Very few countries can boast of receiving national funding at scales the many Scottish quantum companies do. Scotland is also the home of many organisations that allow companies and universities to work together, providing both collaborative opportunities and room for friendly competition to motivate each other.