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‘1,000-qubit supercomputer, boost to IT sector’ — all about National Quantum Mission greenlit by Cabinet

New Delhi: India’s foray into the research and development of quantum technology got a big boost Wednesday as the Union Cabinet approved the National Quantum Mission (NQM) at a cost of Rs 6,003.65 crore. The mission will have defined milestones that are expected to be achieved over the course of eight years (2023-24 to 2030-31).

Speaking at the cabinet briefing, Science and Technology Minister Jitendra Singh said that the mission will aim to seed, nurture and scale up scientific and industrial research and development, and create a “vibrant and innovative” ecosystem in quantum technology in India. 

This will accelerate quantum technology-led economic growth, nurture the ecosystem in the country and make India one of the leading nations in the development of Quantum Technologies & Applications (QTA), he added.

Six countries — the US, Finland, Austria, France, China and Canada — are already working on quantum technology. In terms of R&D, Singh said India is at par with the advances in these countries.

Quantum technology harnesses the principles of quantum mechanics, a theory in physics that deals with the behaviour of matter and energy at the most fundamental level — at the scale of atoms and subatomic particles. The field of quantum mechanics was born about a 100 years ago, during the times of Albert Einstein, Werner Karl Heisenberg and Erwin Schrödinger, when the structure of the atom could not be explained by mechanical physics.

The principle is used in semiconductors, lasers, Blu-ray, transistors, mobile phones, USB drives, MRI, electron microscopes, and even the basic light switch.

Quantum computers, which are still far from achieving their true potential, can perform certain calculations much faster than classical computers. Several countries have built prototypes, with the United States, China and the Netherlands in the lead.

To understand the potential of quantum computing, imagine you have to search through a lengthy phonebook to find a specific name. A classical computer would have to search through the book one page at a time, while a quantum computer could search through all the pages at once. Moreover, it is far more secure and difficult to hack into.

Speaking to ThePrint on the sidelines of the cabinet briefing Wednesday, Akhilesh Gupta, mission in-charge and senior adviser in the Department of Science and Technology, said: “This is the first time that India is not borrowing a new technology from another country, rather, we are developing it ourselves.”


Also Read: Govt launches ‘quantum communication’ network with a dare: Rs 10L for ethical hackers who can break encryption


‘Target to develop a 1,000-qubit computer’

The new mission targets developing intermediate scale quantum computers with 50-1,000 physical qubits in 8 years across various platforms like superconducting and photonic technology. In classical computing, the smallest and most basic unit of information that can be processed and stored is called a ‘bit’. In quantum computing, the basic unit of information is called a ‘qubit’.

At the briefing, science minister Singh said: “We will try to achieve 20 to 50 qubits in the first three years, 50-100 in the first five years. By the end of this mission, our target is to develop a 1,000-qubit computer.”  

Though many companies have developed and are currently working on quantum computers, they are still in early stages of development, mission in-charge Gupta explained. Qubits are extremely delicate and prone to errors, and increasing the number of qubits while maintaining their stability is a major challenge in the development of quantum computers. 

Secure communications, atomic clocks & superconductors

During the cabinet briefing, Jitendra Singh said that 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 kilometres as well as multi-node quantum network with quantum memories are also some of the deliverables of the Mission.

The 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/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 research and technology institutes on the domains of quantum computing, quantum communication, quantum sensing & metrology and quantum materials & devices. 

According to Gupta, quoted earlier, India’s Nano Mission has already helped develop several quantum materials. However, he said, India is still behind in the fields of semiconductor sensing devices as well as quantum computing, all of which will not get a push under the quantum mission. 

‘Strategic advantage’

The National Quantum Mission can take the technology development ecosystem in the country to a globally competitive level, minister Singh said during the briefing.

According to a statement by the science ministry, the mission would greatly benefit communication, health, financial and energy sectors as well as drug design, and space applications. It will provide a huge boost to “national priorities” like ‘Digital India’, ‘Make in India’, ‘Skill India’ and ‘Stand-up India’, ‘Startup India’, ‘Self-reliant India’ and Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). 

At the sidelines of the briefing, Singh also told ThePrint that development of quantum technology gives India a strategic advantage. He further said that not only will this technology secure the country’s defence communication, but also act as a deterrent, preventing other countries from attempting to hack into India’s communication networks. 

India’s quantum mission

India’s quantum mission has been in the works since 2018, when the Department of Science & Technology put out a call for proposals on projects related to the field of quantum computing. QuEST (Quantum-Enabled Science & Technology) falls under the department’s Interdisciplinary Cyber Physical Systems (ICPS) division. 

In January 2019, the first mission meeting of the QuEST programme was held at the International Institute of Information Technology (IIIT)-Hyderabad. The event was attended by nearly 50 delegates, most of them academics working in the area of quantum physics. Top science representatives of the government’s different research branches, including principal scientific adviser (PSA) to the government K. VijayRaghavan, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chairman K. Sivan, and NITI Aayog member and former defence secretary Vijay Kumar Saraswat were also present.

In her 2020 budget speech, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had said that India was set to invest Rs 8,000 crore over the next five years in the National Mission on Quantum Technology or the QuEST programme.

(Edited by Gitanjali Das)


Also Read: India sets off on pursuit of quantum computers, the ‘holy grail’ of modern tech


Source: The Print

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