ETH spin-off Zurich Instruments was recently acquired by German technology group Rohde & Schwarz. What was so significant about this deal?
: Zurich Instruments has gone from being a niche manufacturer to attracting the interest of a major electronics company. That’s fantastic news! It shows that demand for quantum technology devices has now reached a broader market, and it confirms the more general trend we’re seeing in investments in this area.
: Rohde & Schwarz is a big corporate group. Their decision to snap up Zurich Instruments will certainly have been motivated by that company’s success in carving out a position for itself in the market for quantum technology instruments over recent years. Although Rohde & Schwarz has some products that can be used in related fields of application, they had never really targeted this particular area before. So buying an ETH spin-off was a good opportunity for the company to get into this market. We’ve been collaborating with Zurich Instruments on joint projects for the past eight years, so it’s also an exciting development for us as a lab.
Should we see this as part of a wider trend in this field?
: The acquisition of Zurich Instruments reflects broader efforts we’re seeing by big-name computing and electronics companies to make the right investments to establish a presence in the field of quantum technology.
: Interest in this area has been huge over the past five years, with big investments in both new and not-so-new start-ups. We’ve also seen tremendous expansion in the field itself. As a result, there are now far more opportunities to find a job in quantum technologies, both here in Switzerland and internationally.
Have we now reached the point where you would say we’re transitioning from quantumtheory to real-world practice?
: We’ve witnessed a number of transitions since quantum physics first emerged over 100 years ago. Things like transistors, lasers and MRI would never have been conceivable without quantum physics. So you could argue that many applications of quantum physics are already here. The late 1980s produced various theories on how quantum physics could be used for information technology, computers, secure communication and enhanced sensor systems. In the late 1990s, researchers began experimenting with ways of making such systems a reality, and the first successful implementations led to a period of experimental advances and a surge in expectations. Today, we really are in a transitional phase between fundamental physics and real-world applications.
How close are the ties between ETH and the private sector?
: We’re already cooperating with industry partners on numerous Innosuisse and EU projects. At the same time, we’re working with the recently founded Quantum Center, which is headed by Andreas. The idea is to set up a Partnership Council, which will help industry partners, ETH researchers and students benefit from ever-closer cooperation.
Which specific industries do you have in mind?
: We hope to attract the interest of major international technology companies such as Google, IBM and Microsoft as well as start-ups such as Rigetti Computing and IQM. We’ll also be looking at potential users of quantum technology, such as the cyber security sector.
: I’m also very interested in applications in the chemical, pharma and biotech sectors, such as the development of catalysts, biologically and chemically active substances, and medicinal drugs. These may be a long way off – a bit like quantum computing itself – but they’re definitely areas in which quantum computers could offer major benefits. Calculate the properties of a complex molecule, for example, and you’re essentially solving a quantum physics problem.