This laboratory is propelling Abu Dhabi into the quantum era

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By harnessing the laws of physics, the Quantum Research Center at Abu Dhabi’s Technology Innovation Institute plans to smash the barriers limiting the speed of existing computers.

COMPUTERS TODAY process information in bits, tiny on and off switches encoded in zeroes and ones. A new generation of computing researchers, however, are developing machines that instead rely on the laws of quantum physics.

Scientists from the Quantum Research Center (QRC) at Abu Dhabi’s Technology Innovation Institute say quantum bits, or qubits, allow computers to exponentially speed up certain tasks. “A qubit can exist in an infinite number of states,” explains Prof. Dr. Andrew Lutken, executive director at the center’s Quantum Computing Group, who compares it with conventional bits abiding by the laws of classical mechanics. “We cannot monitor them all by measurements but nature uses this property to ‘compute’ an infinite number of possible outcomes of a physical process.”

These capabilities can unlock new algorithmic possibilities for quantum computers, allowing them to carry out calculations that “no conventional computer, such as your laptop, can achieve in a lifetime,” he says. Qubit-powered machines can revolutionize fields ranging from healthcare to artificial intelligence—and by the end of this summer, QRC anticipates that Abu Dhabi will lay the foundations for such a future, by producing its first simple quantum chips.

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Such a task is filled with seemingly-tiny but crucial considerations: the qubits need to be kept clean, isolated from electric and magnetic fields, and most importantly, at minus 273 degrees—colder than anywhere in our solar system. “The most difficult part of building a quantum computer is keeping it in a quantum state, which is fragile,” explains Dr. Lutken. “The tiniest particle or stray field can change or even destroy a qubit and destabilize the quantum state of the computer.”

One or two qubits can’t outmatch the billions of bits powering your laptop. But each qubit is significantly more powerful than its ordinary counterparts. In fact, some companies have already staked a claim to quantum supremacy with machines powered by less than 60 qubits—meaning that their computers took minutes to crunch numbers that they say would have otherwise occupied conventional supercomputers for thousands of years.

As engineers at QRC’s Quantum Computing Laboratory assembles the Arab world’s quantum computer, they don’t anticipate the machine outperforming classic supercomputers immediately. QRC currently has three qubits running on its Masdar City premises, and plans to develop five by the end of this year. The center plans to manufacture at least 30 more quantum bits over the next two years—but Lutken says the team is equally focused on laying a strong foundation for future quantum research. “More than the quantity of qubits, it is the quality of qubits and how well they work together that really matters,” he says.

These preparations will shape the future of computing in the UAE—and even contribute toward its ambitions to transition toward a knowledge-based economy. “In the UAE, we have exceptional local talent, and coupled with the extraordinary global expertise we are attracting to TII, we are training a new generation of quantum engineers,” says Dr. Lutken.

“We will compete on quality and originality,” he adds. “Established western nations have no monopoly on that, as is clear from the history of science.”

Find out more about TII’s Quantum Research Center 

Video Producer: Rama Naser, @ramaanaser

Videography: Evamotion, @evamotion_net