From 1 to 4 November, the first International Conference on Quantum Technologies for High-Energy Physics (QT4HEP) was held at CERN. With 224 people attending in person and many more following online, the event brought together researchers from academia and industry to discuss recent developments and, in particular, to identify activities within particle physics that can benefit most from the application of quantum technologies.
Opening the event, Joachim Mnich, CERN director for research and computing, noted that CERN is widely recognised, including by its member states, as an important platform for promoting applications of quantum technologies for both particle physics and beyond. “The journey has just begun, and the road is still long,” he said, “but it is certain that deep collaboration between physicists and computing experts will be key in capitalising on the full potential of quantum technologies.”
The conference was organised by the CERN Quantum Technology Initiative (CERN QTI), which was established in 2020, and followed a successful workshop on quantum computing in 2018 that marked the beginning of a range of new investigations into quantum technologies at CERN. CERN QTI covers four main research areas: quantum theory and simulation; quantum sensing, metrology and materials; quantum computing and algorithms; and quantum communication and networks. The first day’s sessions focused on the first two: quantum theory and simulation, as well as quantum sensing, metrology and materials. Topics covered included the quantum simulation of neutrino oscillations, scaling up atomic interferometers for the detection of dark matter, and the application of quantum traps and clocks to new-physics searches.
Participants showed an interest in broadening collaborations related to particle physics. Members of the quantum theory and quantum sensing communities discussed ways to identify and promote areas of promise relevant to CERN’s scientific programme. It is clear that many detectors in particle physics can be enhanced – or even made possible – through targeted R&D in quantum technologies. This fits well with ongoing efforts to implement a chapter on quantum technologies in the European Committee for Future Accelerators’ R&D roadmap for detectors, noted Michael Doser, who coordinates the branch of CERN QTI focused on sensing, metrology and materials.
For the theory and simulation branch of CERN QTI, the speakers provided a useful overview of quantum machine learning, quantum simulations of high-energy collider events and neutrino processes, as well as making quantum-information studies of wormholes testable on a quantum processor. Elina Fuchs, who coordinates this branch of CERN QTI, explained how quantum advantages have been found for toy models of increased physical relevance. Furthermore, she said, developing a dictionary that relates interactions at high energies to lower energies will enhance knowledge about new-physics models learned from quantum-sensing experiments.
The conference demonstrated the clear potential of different quantum technologies to impact upon particle-physics research
The second day’s sessions focused on the remaining two areas, with talks on quantum-machine learning, noise gates for quantum computing, the journey towards a quantum internet, and much more. These talks clearly demonstrated the importance of working in interdisciplinary, heterogeneous teams when approaching particle-physics research with quantum-computing techniques. The technical talks also showed how studies on the algorithms are becoming more robust, with a focus on trying to address problems that are as realistic as possible.
A keynote talk from Yasser Omar, president of the Portuguese Quantum Institute, presented the “fleet” of programmes on quantum technologies that has been launched since the EU Quantum Flagship was announced in 2018. In particular, he highlighted QuantERA, a network of 39 funding organisations from 31 countries; QuIC, the European Quantum Industry Consortium; EuroQCI, the European Quantum Communication Infrastructure; EuroQCS, the European Quantum Computing and Simulation Infrastructure; and the many large national quantum initiatives being launched across Europe. The goal, he said, is to make Europe autonomous in quantum technologies, while remaining open to international collaboration. He also highlighted the role of World Quantum Day – founded in 2021 and celebrated each year on 14 April – in raising awareness around the world of quantum science.
Jay Gambetta, vice president of IBM Quantum, gave a fascinating talk on the path to quantum computers that exceed the capabilities of classical computers. “Particle physics is a promising area for looking for near-term quantum advantage,” he said. “Achieving this is going to take both partnership with experts in quantum information science and particle physics, as well as access to tools that will make this possible.”
Industry and impact
The third day’s sessions – organised in collaboration with CERN’s Knowledge Transfer group – were primarily dedicated to industrial co-development. Many of the extreme requirements faced by quantum technologies are shared with particle physics, such as superconducting materials, ultra-high vacuum, precise timing, and much more. For this reason, CERN has built up a wealth of expertise and specific technologies that can directly address challenges in the quantum industry. CERN strives to maximise the impact of all of its technologies and know-how on society in many ways to ease the transfer of CERN’s knowledge to industry and society. One focus is to see which technologies might help to build robust quantum-computing devices. Already, CERN’s White Rabbit technology, which provides sub-nanosecond accuracy and picosecond precision of synchronisation for the LHC accelerator chain, has found its way to the quantum community, noted Han Dols, business development and entrepreneurship section leader.
Several of the day’s talks focused on challenges around trapped ions and control systems. Other topics covered included the potential of quantum computing for drug development, measuring brain function using quantum sensors, and developing specialised instrumentation for quantum computers. Representatives of several start-up companies, as well as from established technology leaders, including Intel, Atos and Roche, spoke during the day. The end of the third day was dedicated to crucial education, training and outreach initiatives. Google provided financial support for 11 students to attend the conference, and many students and researchers presented posters.
Marieke Hood, executive director for corporate affairs at the Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator (GESDA) foundation, also gave a timely presentation about the recently announced Open Quantum Institute (OQI). CERN is part of a coalition of science and industry partners proposing the creation of this institute, which will work to ensure that emerging quantum technologies tackle key societal challenges. It was launched at the 2022 GESDA Summit in October, during which CERN Director-General Fabiola Gianotti highlighted the potential of quantum technologies to help achieve key UN Sustainable Development Goals. “The OQI acts at the interface of science and diplomacy,” said Hood. “We’re proud to count CERN as a key partner for OQI, its experience of multinational collaboration will be most useful to help us achieve these ambitions.”
The final day of the conference was dedicated to hands-on workshops with three different quantum-computing providers. In parallel, a two-day meeting of the “Quantum Computing 4HEP” working group, organised by CERN, DESY and the IBM Quantum Network, took place.
Qubit by qubit
Overall, the QT4HEP conference demonstrated the clear potential of different quantum technologies to impact upon particle-physics research. Some of these technologies are here today, while others are still a long way off. Targeted collaboration across disciplines and the academia–industry interface will help ensure that CERN’s research community is ready to maximise on the potential of these technologies.
“Widespread quantum computing may not be here yet, but events like this one provide a vital platform for assessing the opportunities this breakthrough technology could deliver for science,” said Enrica Porcari, head of the CERN IT department. “Through this event and the CERN QTI, we are building on CERN’s tradition of bringing communities together for open discussion, exploration, co-design and co-development of new technologies.”