BME’s experts take leading role in cutting edge quantum technology research

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Our university wins significant funding in the form of a grant from the National Research, Development and Innovation Office.

A few days ago, the Budapest University of Technology and Economics launched a large-scale project financed by the National Research, Development and Innovation Office (NKFIH) for which BME – as the consortium partner of the Wigner Research Centre for Physics of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences – recently received substantial funding as a key participant in the grant application named ‘Creating and sharing quantum bits and developing quantum information networks’. ’Having developed a deep understanding of the laws of quantum mechanics, it is time to use those as the basis for practical developments,’ Gergely Zaránd, university teacher, director of the Institute of Physics at BME’s Faculty of Natural Sciences and the project’s leader on BME’s side explained.

‘In the United States, both large corporations and the government invest heavily in projects such as ours. Google is building a quantum computer and last year, the European Union too decided to launch a Quantum Technology Flagship initiative worth € one billion. Its objective is to promote cutting edge quantum technology developments in the international community.’

Until now in Hungary, only certain centres of excellence at the Wigner Institute and BME including a number of research teams at BME’s Institute of Physics and the researchers of the Department of Networked Systems and Services – formerly called the Department of Telecommunications – at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering have been active in this field. This funding opportunity won by a consortium including the Wigner Research Centre for Physics of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (as consortium leader), BME, Eötvös Loránd Univeristy, Nokia Bell Labs, BHE Bonn Hungary, Femtonics Ltd. and Ericsson Hungary was designed by the government and NKFIH to improve our competitiveness in Flagship projects.

‘Together with the Wigner Institute, BME plays the most important part in this project. The project is based on five pillars which are in harmony with the ones defined by the flagship programme’, Gergely Zaránd said. ‘Our project focuses on quantum communication, quantum computing, quantum simulation, quantum sensing and the development of quantum algorithms. All of these areas are highly exciting but they are expected to offer applications of various depths.”
BME will be engaged in various pillars of this four-year Hungarian quantum technology project through many sub-projects; major infrastructure developments will be implemented and new laboratories will be built.

One of our main objectives is the creation and manipulation of solid-state quantum bits. Stable quantum bits are a prerequisite for programmable quantum computers. A quantum bit (qubit) is a unit of quantum information contained in quantum state in an atom, ion or photon. Similarly to traditional systems, this can be one of two states – ‘yes’ or ‘no’ –, but qubits can also be in superposition which means they are in both states at the same time. In certain applications, this can massively increase the computing capacity resulting not only in faster operation of the device but also in radically more efficient solutions of optimisation issues. ‘There are several suitable platforms to create and manipulate quantum bits,’ Mr. Zaránd said in reference to the developments. ’In the laboratory of our colleague, Szabolcs Csonka, recipient of the ERC Starting Grant and the Lendület Award recognising outstanding young researchers, nanocircuits will be connected through superconducting microresonators in order to generate interconnected, manipulable quantum bits. Another head of a research group funded by the Lendület programme, Ferenc Simon will generate solid-state based quantum bits using a specially altered ODMR (Optically Detected Magnetic Resonance) equipment. In this arrangement for example, defects caused by nitrogen atoms in the diamond lattice (vacancies) can be used to store quantum information.’

Our other key research area is quantum communication. The quantum communication sub-project partly aims at developing functional quantum cryptography systems at BME through the collaboration of the Department of Networked Systems and Services (HIT) headed by Sándor Imre at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and the Physics Institute. ‘These encryption systems are already being used in some places in banking information systems. One benefit of the current photon-based quantum information networks is the instant detection of the decryption of secret codes,’ Gergely Zaránd highlighted one of the practical advantages of such research. These quantum optical and quantum communication studies and developments will be made possible by the laboratory infrastructure jointly designed and used by HIT and the Physics Institute to be constructed at the Department of Atomic Physics with the collaboration of industrial partners where photonics and quantum communication research can be conducted at international standards. ‘A further objective of the project is the development of wireless quantum communication systems but we are also planning to build a reliable, free random number generator working on the principles of quantum mechanics in our new laboratories as the ones currently used often generate pseudo-random numbers.’

‘Quantum metrology which makes measurements using the laws of quantum mechanics is another dynamically growing area, it can be used in many ways. For example, you can generate so-called compressed photon states which help improve the accuracy of equipment used to detect gravitational waves (interferometers), the subject of a recent breakthrough discovery.’

This funding is expected to help Hungary – and also BME, of course – to advance in the area of quantum technology, to be able to join international research and development in progress in this scientific field and to be able to produce quantum technology equipment. We would like to see a future generation of engineers who are truly proficient in quantum algorithms, quantum communication and quantum technology.

During the four-year programme, BME will receive HUF 1.5 billion in total with nearly 50% planned to be spent on infrastructure investment. The Federated Innovation and Knowledge Centre at VIK will be responsible for the management of the project. ‘The regulation by the Senate and the Chancellor’s Office providing an allowance for overhead costs on investments helped us to a great extent without which we could not have applied for the funding and made these large-scale investments,’ Gergely Zaránd stressed. He added that thanks to the funding received, they will be able to recruit new staff and have the chance to offer positions to researchers convinced to return to Hungary from foreign employment.’


Photo: Ildikó Takacs