Looking into the future of quantum computing across industries


This news is based on a publication of Merck KGaA.

Darmstadt isn’t just home to Merck’s global headquarters, it is a global science, technology and innovation hub. In fact, in 2019, it was again ranked as Germany’s No.1 “City of the Future” in terms of scientific innovation. In retrospect then, it’s no surprise that the recent Applied Quantum Conference was hosted by a collaborative syndicate of large science-focused organizations based in Darmstadt: the Operations Centre of the European Space Agency (ESA/ ESOC); the GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung and the Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research (GSI/FAIR); and Merck, a vibrant science and technology company with more than 350 years of history. The conference focus was to discuss the coming paradigm shift in quantum technology. More specifically, the event aimed to identify quantum solutions to current and future needs, connect communities and facilitate interactions to foster future productive collaborations and solutions.

What is “Quantum”?

Quantum mechanics in physics is fundamentally about how molecules, atoms, or sub-atomic particles behave. Over the years, such particles have been observed to act in ways which are highly unexpected and difficult to explain using the established laws of classical physics. As a result, there are currently close to 20 different philosophical interpretations of what quantum behavior is, all valid in their respective applications. Companies like Merck are interested in quantum behavior as it applies in an industrial context. This includes how it can be used to approach challenges in Performance Materials, Life Science and Healthcare.

Specifically, it is hoped that Quantum Computing can address the limitations of traditional “digital”, computational methods and machine learning currently used to identify potential new materials and drugs, and their interaction with so-called drug targets. These methods are highly computationally intensive, if not impossible, and often rely on huge datasets to train the models. One promise of quantum computing is that it will significantly accelerate this process using so-called “qubits” instead of the traditional 0s and 1s of binary digital computing. A qubit can best be described as a vector pointing to a point on the surface of a sphere. Rotations of this vector and interactions with other vectors according to the laws of quantum mechanics can be used as encode calculations on quantum objects. However, it is currently neither clear how to use the algorithms for most real problems, nor possible to test the calculations because hardware with sufficient qubits does not yet exist. Nevertheless, the first interesting approaches for “quantum enhanced” computing are on the horizon.

The Applied Quantum Conference

It’s within this context that Darmstadt-based science leaders ESA/ESOC, GSI/FAIR and Merck organized the Applied Quantum Conference.  Held on February 4, 2020, it brought together very different sectors that are at the same time very similar in terms of the problems they face and are trying to solve.

“The first Applied Quantum Conference was extremely successful in bringing together experts for the application of quantum computing to many real-world challenges from different sectors. Exchanging the gained experiences showed several commonalities and unveiled the potential for common approaches to further increase the utilization of quantum computing. At GSI and the future international FAIR accelerator facility, which is currently under construction, we look forward to intensifying the existing collaboration with ESA and Merck in this and other fields,” said Dr. Tobias Engert, co-organizer and head of the Technology Transfer of GSI and FAIR.

The conference attracted a panel of highly distinguished speakers from Merck, ESA/ESOC and GSI/FAIR. In addition, top universities presented the very latest progress from their labs, and a select group of startups and established international firms demonstrated products and results at the very cutting edge of this technology landscape.

The Applied Quantum Conference was a spectacular collaborative showcase for a branch of scientific endeavor that could shape the progress of the 21st century. The three organizers, ESA/ESOC, GSI/FAIR  and Merck are very much looking forward to all the follow up activities that have been identified. (Merck/CP)

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