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UM and IBM researching quantum computing

UM and IBM researching quantum computing

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IBM

The UM and computer giant IBM are joining forces to find out whether quantum computing could be of use to the Einstein Telescope, the future gravitational wave detector. This telescope is going to yield an amount of data that present computers can hardly process.

The UM is the first Dutch university to be part of the so-called IBM Q Network, which dozens of businesses, academic institutions, laboratories and start-ups have already joined. Among them are Samsung, Boeing, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Oxford University.

With this collaboration, the UM is anticipating a problem that will most certainly occur with the Einstein Telescope, which may be located in South Limburg and which will be put into action in 2035. “The detector is so sensitive that it can pick up many signals from space per second, says associate professor Ronald Westra. “The resulting data cannot be processed by current computers, but quantum computing can handle that. Just to be clear, we are not going to design a quantum computer, as was stated in the ANP release on Monday, but algorithms.”

If those work well, they can also be used in the new particle detector at CERN, the European organisation for nuclear research. The latter also yields tons of data and is coincidentally also starting in 2035. Westra: “Even now, 90 per cent of this data is discarded, or rather, filtered out. During experiments in the particle accelerator, the detector receives 60 million movements per second.”

Two postdocs at the UM, paid by IBM, are going to investigate whether quantum computing could prove useful. What if that is not the case? “Then we will have to continue as before, with high-performance computing, as it is called. That will take some tinkering to achieve our goal.”

Quantum computing may seem like an age-old promise, but this technology is no longer in its infancy, says Westra. “It is ready to be applied. But please note that quantum computing is not something that you can do on your laptop at your desk. It can only be done at extremely low temperatures, such as -270 degrees, and it has to be pitch black.”

Will DKE students benefit from this as well? “Certainly, they will be given a tremendous opportunity to delve into quantum computing. It is our ambition, in time, to form a research group, but in the short term we will offer it as a subject. I have already noticed that many students find it interesting. And who knows, maybe they can do a work placement at IBM, these are all possibilities.”

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