At the hearing, the third of the Committee’s inquiry into ’ Commercialising Quantum Technologies ’, Professor Walmsley , Imperial College London’s Provost and Chair in Experimental Physics advised the Committee on the scientific, engineering and policy challenges facing the UK’s quantum sector as it grows in scale and complexity.
Professor Walmsley offered his reflections as a world-leading expert in the physics of quantum computing and also as co-founder of ORCA Computing, one of the UK’s leading quantum computing businesses.
Current state and future impacts of quantum technologies
Asked for practical examples of the impacts of quantum technologies, Professor Walmsley gave three examples of sectors that will see considerable ’quantum advantage’. Firstly, in cryptography, where public key encryption is vulnerable; secondly, in logistics, where quantum computing power and positioning tools will make optimising the deployment of resources more efficient. Finally, he gave the example of materials, chemistry and simulation, where the new type of capabilities of quantum computers will enable the study and design of entirely new materials and new understandings of natural processes that are impossible to achieve with classical computer technologies. Each of these improvements will come with significant economic advantages to those able to capitalise on them first.
...what is certainly known is a revolution in the kinds of computing you can do...sensors with enhanced precision, well beyond what we know how to build at the moment, and secure communications where their security is governed by the laws of physics and not by trusted parties. These represent massive changes that will have a large impact on society and the way in which we do business using information.
Another topic of interest to the committee is the environmental impacts of quantum technologies. Professor Walmsley confirmed that the low temperature requirements for many quantum technologies are a concern from an energy perspective but that most quantum systems will have a similar energy footprint to the existing high-performance classical computer platforms. He added that there is potential for quantum computing power to reduce many aspects of a country’s overall carbon footprint through our ability to understand and improve the efficiency and energy use of wider natural processes, such as nitrogen fixation in agriculture.
When asked how the UK can stay one step ahead of competitor countries, Professor Walmsley reinforced the importance of international collaborations in research and technology, especially with allied countries and those with shared national values. He argued that the challenge of moving from the ideas and foundational science stage of quantum technologies to the industrial ’scale up’ phase for a quantum-enabled economy can be met through international collaborative opportunities such as those offered by the AUKUS alliance and recent bilateral quantum relationship formed between the UK and Canada.
Imperial’s QuEST centre and committee engagement
The Chair of the committee, Greg Clark MP, also thanked Professor Walmsley and the Centre for Quantum Engineering, Science and Technology ( QuEST ) at Imperial for submitting written evidence to the inquiry.
The Centre was supported in its submission by a number of QuEST PhD students and by the Imperial Policy Forum team, a number of whom were in attendance at the session.
The QuEST centre was formally launched by Lord Hague of Richmond in July 2023 and brings together researchers from all four College faculties, with work focused on ’quantum internet’, materials for quantum technologies, and the applications of quantum computing.
A full recording of the hearing is available via Parliament.tv.