Who builds the quantum computer “Made in Germany”?

The political course for a German quantum computer has been set. Funding of two billion euros is available. Now the research locations are getting into the starting position. Who will do the race?

Munich physicists are developing the quantum computer of tomorrow: View of a modern laboratory at the MPI for Quantum Optics in Garching.

Dhe quantum paradise on earth is in Bavaria, more precisely in Munich. This impression was gained during yesterday’s kick-off event for the “Munich Quantum Valley” initiative, which was broadcast via the internet on YouTube due to corona (and can still be accessed there). The aim of the project, for which the Max Planck and Fraunhofer Society, the two large Munich universities LMU and TUM as well as numerous companies located in the Munich area have come together, is to build at least two powerful quantum computers “Made in Germany” . In five years, according to the plan, they want to present at least one internationally competitive quantum computer that can compete with systems from Google or IBM and that is superior to any classic computer.

With 300 million euros, the Free State will support the project, which provides for the close interlinking of research and industry and, with the construction of a quantum technology park, wants to create the technical infrastructure that is necessary for the development and construction of the components for quantum computers. Rainer Blatt from the University of Innsbruck was won over as coordinator of the ambitious project – a clever move. Blatt is considered one of the pioneers of experimental quantum computing.

The Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder is funding the “Munich Quantum Valley” initiative with 300 million euros.
The Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder is funding the “Munich Quantum Valley” initiative with 300 million euros.: Image: dpa

Yesterday, Thursday, there was a lot of advertising going on. And when listing the many competencies that the Bavarian locations have to offer, the federal initiative that wants to support the construction of a German quantum computer with two billion euros as part of the Corona economic stimulus package almost faded into the background. The federal government only got the ball rolling last year by setting the political and financial course to ensure that Germany and thus also Europe, which is still a leader in quantum science, does not completely lose touch with the world leaders in quantum technology. Something that quantum physicists in Germany have long wanted.

Who will win the race in the end?

In mid-January, the Federal Government’s Expert Council, which was set up at the end of last year, presented a roadmap that describes in detail how it could be possible to advance the development of a quantum computer in cooperation with industry. It is strongly recommended that only the best projects be funded in this project. In a few weeks, so it was heard, the Federal Ministry of Research and the Ministry of Economic Affairs will present the tender, which anyone can apply if they have the appropriate skills and convincing concepts. An independent European advisory group is then to select those projects from these that are to benefit from the federal funds. The whole procedure should be as transparent as possible and be completed before the end of the legislative period, so the hope.

A look into a quantum simulator: Atoms are held in suspension with rays of light and a magnetic field.  With this special quantum computer, special processes can be simulated.
A look into a quantum simulator: Atoms are held in suspension with rays of light and a magnetic field. With this special quantum computer, special processes can be simulated. : Image: MPI for Quantum Optics

It is still completely open who will receive the contract and how high the respective funding will be. In order to position themselves accordingly in advance and thus increase the chances of a positive decision, the large non-university research centers and universities located there have joined forces with interested companies in North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony and Baden Württemberg, as has happened in Bavaria and theirs Concepts for building quantum computers presented. And a new project and a new research network are added almost every week.

In Bavaria, in addition to the roadmap of the Expert Council, the Munich Quantum Valley has perhaps the most sophisticated strategy on how to implement a quantum computer. Nevertheless, you will not be able to do without federal funds in Bavaria. Immanuel Bloch, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Garching, admits that too. Because building a market-ready quantum computer is a Herculean task that requires a lot of money, new ideas and approaches – challenges that can only be mastered in a research network.

What a quantum computer must be able to do

A powerful quantum computer, like a classic PC, must be freely programmable and usable for all possible tasks. In addition, it must have as many quantum bits as possible, as the elementary quantum physical information units are called, which make the quantum computer so unbeatably fast. The quantum bits, which serve as storage and computing units at the same time, must be perfectly controllable and controllable.

The European quantum computer
The European quantum computer “OpenSuperQ” is taking shape at Forschungszentrum Jülich. Detail of the cryostat. The computer, which, like the systems from Google and IBM, is based on superconducting qubits, is primarily intended to simulate chemical reactions and material properties and to accelerate machine learning, a branch of artificial intelligence.: Image: Forschungszentrum Jülich, UK

Above all, a quantum computer must not make any errors in its calculations, which is still a major headache at the moment. Because qubits are sensitive to noise and other disturbances. “With the development of the quantum computer, we are roughly where the computer technology was when the first integrated silicon circuits were developed in the sixties,” said Rudolf Gross from the Technical University of Munich.

Even if it is fairly clear what a future quantum computer should do, it is far from clear which architecture a future universally usable quantum computer will actually be based on. Google and IBM and many other American and Chinese IT companies use superconducting microwave resonators as quantum bits in their systems. But stored atoms, ions or nanometer-sized semiconductor structures can also be used for the quantum physical counterparts of the classic bits.

Platforms such as those being developed in Innsbruck Garching and other German research locations. Every platform has advantages and disadvantages and is far from being mature. And nobody wants to commit to a certain architecture that the quantum computer “Made in Germany” should have. But for this vision to become reality, everyone must pull together.