Universiteit Leiden

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Major Expansion Leiden Quantum Computing

The 18.8 million euro NWO Zwaartekracht grant for quantum software which Amsterdam, Delft and Leiden landed collectively, means for Leiden University among others the appointment of two new permanent scientific staff members, who will each form their own research group, divided over Computer Science, Physics and Mathematics.

Capacity building

‘This is exactly the right moment to invest in this kind of research,’ says Carlo Beenakker, Professor in theoretical physics at the Leiden Institute of Physics (LION) and initiator of the research proposal. ‘Ten years ago, there was little you could do with quantum computers, and in twenty years from now they will probably already be a reality. With this Zwaartekracht grant we can now build the capacity that gives us an advantage in the future, when hundreds of millions will be invested by the EU and industry. It is essential to start building a consortium now, otherwise you miss the boat.’

Machine learning

Aske Plaat is involved in the Zwaartekracht grant as scientific director of the Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science (LIACS). ‘The main advantage of quantum computers is the huge computing power and therefore speed. Where it takes a conventional computer years to solve a specific problem, a quantum computer could potentially solve it within one day. Computer Science in Leiden is specialized in machine learning; teaching a computer to recognize patterns. What we can already do with classical computers, we will now apply to quantum computers. That way we can perform complex calculations much faster.’

Research positions

The exact distribution of research positions within the Leiden-Amsterdam-Delft consortium will gradually become clear as the project progresses. On behalf of Leiden Physics, Dirk Bouwmeester’s group will specifically work on the development of a quantum-internet connection with Delft and Amsterdam. Beenakker sees many possibilities for interdisciplinary collaboration: ‘LIACS, LION and the Mathematics Institute are part of the consortium, but I hope also Chemistry will join. The first applications of a quantum computer might very well be in quantum chemistry.’

Vaccine development

Aske Plaat thinks of a potential medical application: ‘Imagine the amount of work involved in the development of a vaccine against a virus. You have to run through all possibilities to find the exact molecule that does the job. And in the meantime, the virus could mutate, so there is always a sense of hurry. In the future, quantum computers will be able to keep up with the pace.’