India’s National Quantum Mission to scale up R & D in quantum technology

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The Indian government has recently approved the National Quantum Mission to scale-up scientific and industrial research and development (R&D) for quantum technologies. 
 
The mission received the approval of the cabinet at a total cost of Rs. 6,003.65 crore (around $731 million), to scale up scientific and industrial R&D. 
 
The programme aims to accelerate quantum technology led economic growth and leverage India into a leading nation in the area. 

“The National Quantum Mission is going to give India a quantum jump in this arena,” Science and Technology Minister Jitendra Singh, who is also the Minister for Atomic Energy, said. 

India will be the seventh country to have a dedicated quantum mission after the US, Austria, Finland, France, Canada and China. 

“They (other countries with dedicated quantum missions) are also at the R&D stage. None of them has started any applications of it (quantum technology). We are also going to be at par,” Singh said. 

The programme will run from 2023-24 to 2030-31, and aims to seed, nurture and scale up scientific and industrial R&D and create a vibrant and innovative ecosystem in quantum technology. 
 
The new mission targets developing intermediate scale quantum computers with 50-1000 physical qubits in 8 years in various platforms like superconducting and photonic technology, according to a cabinet communique. 

Satellite-based secure quantum communications between ground stations over a range of 2,000 kilometres within India, long distance secure quantum communications with other countries, inter-city quantum key distribution over 2,000 km as well as multi-node quantum network with quantum memories are also some of the deliverables of the mission. 

Commercial production of quantum computers that would process information much faster than today’s supercomputers is still some time away — industry has to first solve hardware issues in quantum technology. 

Quantum theory is about nature at its smallest scale and energy levels and describes the behaviour of subatomic particles like electrons, protons, neutrons and photons. 

In silicon chips of classical computers, the unit of data is rendered in one of two states — 0 or 1 pertaining to the true/false or yes/no state. However, in quantum theory, data could simultaneously exist in both states, holding exponentially more information. The unit, or “bit” in regular computing, becomes “qubit” in quantum theory, which can be either 0 or 1, or in superposition of them both at the same time. 

This means that where a normal computer makes calculations sequentially, one at a time, a quantum computer would be able to process information simultaneously, thus making it much more powerful. 

The computing power of a quantum computer grows exponentially with the number of quantum bits that can be manipulated, Professor Alexey Kavokin, Chair of Nanophysics and Photonics at the University of Southampton in the UK, told this correspondent earlier. 

“However, while the manipulation of multi-particle entanglement is at the core of quantum computing, the physical implementation of qubits is difficult simply because quantum phenomena are hard to observe in everyday life,” Kavokin said.  

Building a quantum computer requires a physical qubit that is well isolated from the environment, he said, adding that stabilising it in a physical platform is the key. 

“There is a hardware problem to be resolved before the world can realise quantum computing on an industrial scale,” he said.  

Owing to the enormous potential of quantum computers, companies like Google, Microsoft and IBM have invested massively in quantum computing research. 

Google has unveiled a Quantum Computer with just 54 qubits, which was able to carry out an experimental calculation in 200 seconds that would have taken the world’s most powerful supercomputer around 10,000 years to compute. 

However, despite substantial progress in the past two decades, building quantum machines that can actually outperform classical computers — an important milestone termed “quantum supremacy” — remains challenging. 

Quantum computers are posed to break many of the encryptions used to protect sensitive data which has spurred research in hack-proof, secure quantum communications. Working at the photon level, quantum mechanics, at some stage, is also expected to enable super secure communications. 

For instance, both Russia and China have announced the development of quantum blockchains which allows using a quantum cryptography and quantum data transfer system to protect databases from hacking. This technology creates special blocks which are signed by quantum keys, rather than traditional digital signatures 

India’s National Quantum Mission will help develop magnetometers with high sensitivity in atomic systems and atomic clocks for precision timing, communications and navigation. 
 
It will also support design and synthesis of quantum materials such as superconductors, novel semiconductor structures and topological materials for fabrication of quantum devices. 
 
Single photon sources or detectors, entangled photon sources will also be developed for quantum communications, sensing and metrological applications. 
 
Four thematic hubs (T-Hubs) will be set up in top academic and National R&D institutes on the various domains – Quantum Computing, Quantum Communication, Quantum Sensing and Metrology, and Quantum Materials and Devices. 
 
“The hubs will focus on generation of new knowledge through basic and applied research as well as promote R&D in areas that are mandated to them,” the Science and Technology Minister said.  

He said organisations such as the Raman Research Institute, Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (both in Bengaluru) and S.N. Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences, Kolkata, have been pursuing research in the quantum field. Besides, 20 other institutes too are engaged in research and development in this sector. 

The Minister also said the Mission can take the technology development ecosystem in the country to a globally competitive level. It would greatly benefit communication, health, financial and energy sectors as well as drug design, and space applications.  

According to the government, the governing body of the Mission will be chaired by a renowned scientist or an entrepreneur from the technology, industry or research sector. Also, the Mission Technology Research Council will be headed by the Principal Scientific Advisor and will be the scientific advisory mechanism for the governing body.