Kavli/Delft-QN/QuTech PI Leo Kouwenhoven's talk at TedX Amsterdam


By Brenda Smeenge on TedX.amsterdam

Can we make Quantum Technology? – An interview with Leo Kouwenhoven

“Quantum science is ready for engineering,” says Leo Kouwenhoven. “We’re building technology that will forever change and improve our understanding of nature and we can’t even begin to imagine the possibilities it will bring us.”

Leo Kouwenhoven is an Applied Physics University Professor at the TU Delft, specialized in the field of Quantum Nanoscience. He is also Scientific Director of QuTech. The aim of QuTech is the development of the quantum computer and a quantum Internet.

Quantum explained

Quantum theory is the theoretical basis of modern physics that explains the nature and behavior of matter and energy on the atomic and subatomic level.

At these small scales, new rules apply. Rules of probability that are counterintuitive in our everyday world. These quantum rules promise effects that can be used to develop a quantum computer.

Building blocks

In classical computers, information is stored and processed in the form of classical bits (building blocks), which must always be either 0 or 1.

The building block for a quantum computer is a quantum bit: qubit. The qubit is based on quantum rules and can be 0 and 1 at the same time. This principle is called superposition.

Entanglement, another quantum phenomenon, can be used to transfer information. Entanglement occurs when a pair of particles (such as photons) share a superposition. The entangled particles behave as one, even when separated by a large distance.

A quantum computer will not only be enormously faster than current classical computers, it will be able to solve arithmetic issues that we’re currently unable to solve. TEDxAmsterdam interviewed Leo Kouwenhoven to find out what that means for us.

What will your TEDxAmsterdam 2015 talk be about?

However hard it may be to wrap your head around quantum mechanical principles, nature uses them all the time to solve problems. Quantum Mechanics is the natural way to calculate and, since scientists like Bohr, Planck and Einstein discovered it, we use it to understand how nature works. I’ll give examples of it in my talk. Furthermore, at TU Delft/QuTech, we are builders, taking it to the next level, Quantum 2.0 you could say. We engineer with it and will develop a computer that can calculate like nature does, bringing infinite possibilities, beyond what’s seen in nature even, to mankind.

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And your team at TU Delft proved Einstein wrong in the process?

That did make international headlines recently, but please don’t forget Einstein was the second scientist to embrace quantum mechanics. What he said mostly holds, but was not always complete. He did not buy into part of the entanglement principle, the notion of particles influencing each other instantly, even at large distances. To him that sounded spooky. He did not think they could communicate with each other faster than the speed of light. Ronald Hanson and his team at QuTech proved that entanglement can exist over distances of more than a kilometer. Their experiment might become the basis for a future Quantum Internet where information is teleported instead of sent through cables.

You referred to infinite possibilities the Quantum Computer could provide. Can you give examples?

It’s already applied in, for example, MRIs and mobile phones. But look at it this way: everything consists of materials. Tesla (an electric car) would like to have a battery in the car that is small, but can still store the energy that’s needed for a large action radius, and can deploy the energy when needed, without losing any of it. Engineers need to find materials with the capacity to meet those desires. They need to find them between billions of possible material combinations. Classical computers cannot assist efficiently and, if they could, it would take them forever to calculate the correct answer. The quantum computer, however, works with the same quantum mechanical principles as nature does, including all those materials. So the quantum computer will not only find the right materials, it will find them a lot faster. It’s much like a Google search but then within the quantum world.

Another example: sometimes our personal chemical processes get disrupted. We get ill and we need a doctor. A doctor can help out with many diseases, but illnesses like Alzheimer’s or cancer still leave them baffled, because we cannot yet understand how nature uses chemistry to create or solve these illnesses. So we try out medicines, without knowing if they contain the materials that would help you. The quantum computer could help to find the right formula of materials in the medication you need. Mind you, I am saying it could. I’m not yet saying it will.

Last but not least: could the quantum computer solve really Big Questions, like climate issues? If we can understand nature and planet earth better with it, could it for example save our planet, or mankind?

The quantum computer will help us understand many things that are uncertain or even unknown now, but we cannot really grasp what it will be capable of just yet. Look at it this way: When Leonard Kleinrock invented the Internet in the sixties, he did not know it would lead to Facebook.

We are building a quantum computer and with it we can play the incomprehensible game nature plays. We’ll understand nature and reality better than we ever have, we’ll grasp how the universe is connected with invisible entanglements. Scientifically seen, this is one of the largest steps made, comparable with seeing the universe for the first time. To be specific, in answering your question, I’d say if we end up looking for materials to produce oxygen without trees, we’d definitely need a quantum computer. But I really feel Quantum will bring us things that are much, much bigger than what we can comprehend or imagine now. There is a lot more than we can capture in our language, a lot more than we can see, figure out or experience now. It’s called Quantum.


Edited by Andrew Croasdale
Photos by Sam Rentmeester