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Quantum Technology

24th March – Quantum Technology

Picking up the quantum technology baton

In the Budget 2020 speech, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman made a welcome announcement for Indian science — over the next five years she proposed spending ₹8,000 crore ($1.2 billion) on a National Mission on Quantum Technologies and Applications. This promises to catapult India into the midst of the second quantum revolution, a major scientific effort that is being pursued by the United States, Europe, China and others.

Background –

  • Quantum mechanics was developed in the early 20th century to describe nature in the small — at the scale of atoms and elementary particles.
  • For over a century it has provided the foundations of our understanding of the physical world, including the interaction of light and matter, and led to ubiquitous inventions such as lasers and semiconductor transistors.
  • Despite a century of research, the quantum world still remains mysterious and far removed from our experiences based on everyday life.

Benefits –

  • Besides computing, exploring the quantum world promises other dramatic applications including the creation of novel materials, enhanced metrology, secure communication, to name just a few.
  • Computer scientists are working towards deploying schemes for post-quantum cryptography — clever schemes by which existing computers can keep communication secure even against quantum computers of the future.
  • Beyond these applications, some of the deepest foundational questions in physics and computer science are being driven by quantum information science. This includes subjects such as quantum gravity and black holes.

Challenges –

  • On the experimental front, the challenge lies in harnessing the properties of quantum superposition and entanglement in a highly controlled manner by building a system composed of carefully designed building blocks called quantum bits or qubits. These qubits tend to be very fragile and lose their “quantumness” if not controlled properly, and a careful choice of materials, design and engineering is required to get them to work.
  • On the theoretical front lies the challenge of creating the algorithms and applications for quantum computers. These projects will also place new demands on classical control hardware as well as software platforms.

Quantum research in India –

Globally, research in this area is about two decades old, but in India, serious experimental work has been under way for only about five years, and in a handful of locations. So far we have been plagued by a lack of sufficient resources, high quality manpower, timeliness and flexibility. A previous programme called Quantum Enabled Science and Technology has just been fully rolled out, more than two years after the call for proposals.

Way forward –

  • Private funding, both via industry and philanthropy, can play an outsized role in ensuring greater resources even with much smaller amounts. This is the most effective way (as China and Singapore discovered) to catch up scientifically with the international community, while quickly creating a vibrant intellectual environment to help attract top researchers.
  • Further, connections with Indian industry from the start would also help quantum technologies become commercialised successfully, allowing Indian industry to benefit from the quantum revolution. We must encourage industrial houses and strategic philanthropists to take an interest and reach out to Indian institutions with an existing presence in this emerging field.

SourceThe Hindu

QUESTIONDiscuss the pace of research in quantum technology in India. What are the potential benefits for India and how India must reap the benefits of it?

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