national-mission-on-quantum-technologies-and-applications

The Budget 2020 announcement on a National Mission on Quantum Technologies and Applications provided direction to catapult India into the midst of the second quantum revolution.

More about the news:

  • Budget 2020 made an announcement for Indian science over the next five years.It proposed spending of 8,000 crore on a National Mission on Quantum Technologies and Applications.
  • The government’s announcement of this new mission is on a massive scale and on a par with similar programmes announced recently by the United States and Europe.  
  • 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. 

National Mission on Quantum Technologies and Applications:

 

Source:DST

India’s status in development of quantum technologies:

  • Late Start:In India serious experimental work on these technologies has been under way for only about five years, and in a handful of locations. Whereas globally, research in this area is about two decades old.
  • Lack of sufficient resources, high quality manpower, timeliness and flexibility:
    • The new announcement of the National Mission on Quantum Technologies and Applications would greatly help fix the resource problem but high quality manpower is in global demand. 
    • In a fast moving field like this, timeliness is everything delayed funding by even one year is an enormous hit.
  • There are no quantum computers in India yet. 
  • In 2018, the Department of Science & Technology unveiled a programme called Quantum-Enabled Science & Technology (QuST) to accelerate research on Quantum computing. 

What is quantum computing?

  1. Quantum computing is the area of study focused on developing computer technology based on the principles of quantum mechanics, which deals with the behavior of particles at the scale of atoms and subatomic particles. 
  2. At that tiny scale, many rules of classical physics cease to apply, and the unique rules of quantum physics come into play.
  3. Quantum Computers encode information as quantum bits, or qubits, which can exist in superposition. 
  4. Qubits represent atoms, ions, photons or electrons and their respective control devices that are working together to act as computer memory and a processor. 
  5. Because a quantum computer can contain these multiple states simultaneously, it has the potential to be millions of times more powerful than today's most powerful supercomputers.

Traditional computer 

Quantum computer

It processes information in a binary format, called bits, which can represent either a 0 or 1.

It uses logical units called quantum bits, or qubits, that can be put into a quantum state where they can simultaneously represent both 0 and 1

Bits in a classical computer all operate independently from one another

The status of one qubit effects the status of all the other qubits in the system, so they can all work together to achieve a solution

Outputs the same answer to a problem every time you run a calculation

Output of a quantum computer is probabilistic.

 

That means it does not always produce the same answer. So to use a quantum computer, you have to run a calculation through the system thousands or even millions of times, and the array of outputs converge around the answer that is most likely to be correct.

Applications

  • It will be able to solve a vast array of complex problems that lie beyond the abilities of today's most advanced supercomputers.
  • Among the most anticipated uses of quantum computers is the ability to create new chemicals, like catalysts for producing nitrogen-based fertilizers or for use in cells in higher-powered batteries. 
  • Quantum computing could also be used to crack most commonly used forms of digital encryption.
  • It may one day also be used to streamline logistics and delivery operations, as well as speeding up machine learning applications.

 

A global timeline on Quantum mechanics

  • Early 20th century:
    • Quantum mechanics was developed in the early 20th century to describe nature in the small at the scale of atoms and elementary particles. 
    • Earlier uses: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. 
  • Second quantum revolution:
    • Despite a century of research in quantum technologies it still remains mysterious and far removed from our experiences based on everyday life. 
    • A second revolution is currently underway with the goal of putting our growing understanding of these mysteries to use by actually controlling nature and harnessing the benefits of the weird and wondrous properties of quantum mechanics. 
    • Tremendous computing power of quantum computers and its actual experimental realisation is one of the great challenges of our times. 
  • The announcement by Google, in October 2019:
    • Google claimed to have demonstrated the so-called “quantum supremacy”, is one of the first steps towards this goal.


Challenges ahead:

  • Need of collaboration in various fields:Efficient utilisation of these technologies will require an unprecedented collaboration between physicists (both experimentalists and theorists), computer scientists, material scientists and engineers.
  • Building a system composed of blocks called qubits.
    • On the experimental front:The challenge lies in harnessing the weird and wonderful 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. 
    • Very fragile character of qubits: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:Challenge lies in the creation of the algorithms and applications for quantum computers. These projects will also place new demands on classical control hardware as well as software platforms.

Way ahead:

  • Need of private funding to compliment public funds:
    • There are some limits that come from how the government must do business with public funds. The private funding both via industry and philanthropy, can play an outsized role even with much smaller amounts. 
  • Retaining high quality manpower and building international networks:
    • It will make an enormous difference to the success of this enterprise. 
    • 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.
  • Encouraging industrial houses and strategic philanthropists:
    • 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 also need to  encourage industrial houses and strategic philanthropists to take an interest and reach out to Indian institutions with an existing presence in this emerging field such as Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), home to India’s first superconducting quantum computing lab.

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