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'Quantum is a race we need to win'

4 min read

Eddie Hughes MP says with the right funding there is potential to bring quantum out of the labs and into industry to deliver real tangible improvements for our citizens and the economy.

Housing, transport and productivity are some of the most pressing political issues of our time. From overcrowded trains and congestion to remediating brownfield sites and developing affordable housing; construction is at the centre of delivering these priorities. 

With many businesses now embracing ‘modern methods of construction’ above the ground the industry is adapting to technological change. As a civil engineer by trade I understand how much risk – and therefore cost - is still in the ground. How often we hear of costs and timeframes spiralling on important projects because of unforeseen problems. How do we reduce this risk? Thankfully Professor Kai Bongs and his team, who recently hosted me at the Quantum Hub for Sensors and Metrology the University of Birmingham, have some important solutions in the pipeline thanks to the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme.

The gravity sensors developed there have the potential to transform civil engineering. The science is complicated, but the application is simple: it will allow us to map out exactly what lies below our feet. Amazingly at the moment, we know more about Antarctica than what lies a metre away beneath our feet. This technology will change that. This will allow us to drastically reduce risk and time and therefore cost and translates into a direct benefit for everyone in our quest to improve infrastructure.

Gravity sensors are only one part of the quantum leaps we are making in this field. Diagnosis in healthcare will be hugely impacted due to our development of magnetic sensors, reducing costs in unnecessary procedures and in turn helping to improve the UK’s healthcare system. Quantum clocks have the potential for new navigation systems, keeping our military as the very best in the world and the potential of quantum computing to change modelling is vast.

The economic impact of quantum technology for the UK and the global economy has the potential to be huge with the Government Office for Science estimating that in the long term, quantum technologies could be comparable in size to the consumer electronics sector, currently worth an estimated £240bn a year globally. The UK’s quantum technologies community has suggested that the emerging quantum industry could create hundreds or thousands of high-value jobs in the UK.

Being a world leader in the production of new technologies is key, as we seek to build a prosperous future for the UK. Quantum is a race we need to win and the government’s Industrial Strategy outlines an ambition for the UK to be the world’s most innovative economy, and therefore it is important to invest in new technologies where we have the potential to be world leaders.

At the moment the UK already enjoys a competitive advantage on an international level when it comes to quantum technologies. This is partly down to the success of Phase I of the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme, which was awarded £270m funding in 2013 by the government. This successful first phase has enabled the UK to develop its quantum technologies skills base and has laid the foundations for the commercialisation of the technologies over the next few years.

As Phase I draws to a close, it is vital that we keep the momentum going for Phase II of the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme – otherwise, we risk losing our expertise to overseas competitors. £338m funding was proposed for the second phase and the government has already confirmed part of this funding, with a £80m funding boost announced in early September. This announcement is welcome and gives confidence to our research base and the emerging quantum technologies industry. But we need to be even more ambitious and I’d like to see the Government announce the rest of the proposed funding for Phase II, to ensure that the UK can fully benefit from the new markets that quantum technologies will unlock.  The potential is there to bring quantum out of the labs and into industry to deliver real tangible improvements for our citizens and the economy.


Professor Kai Bongs, Director of UK National Quantum Technology Hub for Sensors and Metrology, says when it comes to quantum technology further investment is needed to help turn world-leading science into commercial opportunities. Read the full article here.

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