Earlier this summer, I had the privilege of being a part of the announcement of Quantum Horizons Alberta (QHA). Led by four visionary Canadians, Richard Bird, Joanne Cuthbertson, Patrick Daniel and Guy Turcotte, this new $25-million, Alberta-wide initiative in partnership with the Universities of Alberta, Calgary and Lethbridge aims to expand our foundational knowledge of quantum science — and unravel the mysteries of the unusual properties and behaviours of the tiniest components of our universe.
These tiny unsolved mysteries hold a lot of unknown potential. The quantum realm is home to fascinating possibilities like unbreakably secure communications; efficient computation for difficult optimization problems; and unprecedented measurement sensitivity in position, navigation and timing applications. Discoveries like these could be transformational to the human condition — which includes your business.
We already see the results of experimental and applied quantum science day-to-day in technologies like medical imaging, lasers and sensors; and in the near future, quantum computers and cybersecurity.
Right here in Edmonton, Zero Point Cryogenics, a start-up led by University of Alberta professor and researcher, John P. Davis, manufactures dilution refrigerators — the primary hardware platform needed for quantum computers.
Davis sells these near-absolute-zero refrigerators to big-name companies around the world and says that Edmonton makes the perfect home base. Many of the skill sets connected to the oil and gas industry — in hardware and building things — can easily be applied to manufacturing in this area of the quantum industry.
“It’s a nice way for our region to uniquely enter this really interesting quantum space,” says Davis.
But in order to create a tangible application like a quantum computer, a lot needs to be understood — how it works, what it’s made of, how the materials interact with each other and so on. There are layers and levels and centuries of knowledge supporting the creation of an innovative technology and when the layers are peeled back, you’ll eventually arrive at the foundation: some principle of basic science that was discovered simply through experimenting with thought.
QHA was created to explore that basic, foundational part of quantum science. Though it could take decades or centuries for some advances in quantum to move from the realm of thought to real-world applications, without these theoretical and fundamental components, the key pieces of the puzzle would be missing.
“Quantum Horizons Alberta is very theory-focused,” says Davis, “To build a quantum ecosystem, that theoretical strength helps nurture the experimental and business side of the quantum landscape.”
While we wait for those reality-changing, foundational discoveries to come to light, initiatives like QHA also activate the research ecosystem across our province, leverage talent across universities and attract and retain high-calibre scientists from around the world. It has the potential to significantly grow and diversify our economy and make our region an established destination for quantum — and a hub for Canadian-made discoveries.
Quantum science is an emerging industry to watch. It will change the way we understand, experience and live in our world.