Description of the Challenge (Main Aim)

The unprecedented level of preparation, manipulation, control and detection of quantum systems achieved during the last few years has positioned quantum technology as one of the most relevant emerging technologies. Within this field, ultracold atoms are the prime technology for many applications such as atomtronics, quantum simulators, quantum information and quantum metrology.

The current gain of control over macroscopic quantum systems and the rise of quantum technologies may well be considered as the second quantum revolution. Ultracold atoms are already opening promising markets in inertial navigation (essential for GPS-denied environments), computation, biomagnetic imaging, mineral exploration, and archaeology.

The Main Challenge of the AtomQT COST Action is to explore quantum technology with ultra-cold atoms fundamentally and to exploit it in real-life applications like gravimetry and inertial navigation and in fundamental applications such as precision measurements and the search for violation of the standard model.

The Quantum Industrial Challenge lies in exploiting the opportunities of the second quantum revolution, to combine the fundamental research, that has brought about this revolution, with the real industrial interest. The first companies (some of which are co-proposers of AtomQT) are already entering the market with real quantum products. A recent survey shows that the European industry’s interest in quantum technologies, from big companies like Bosch, Siemens, Thales, Safran, ASML, Nokia, Airbus and Alcatel Lucent, is growing. There is strong commercial interest in macroscopic quantum devices such as quantum gravimeters for oil exploration or long-distance quantum cryptography systems, or even complete Bose-Einstein Condensate machines. However, to sustain this newly found momentum, we need to invest in more efficient communication between academia and industry.

The Human-Resource Challenge lies in the fact that there is a considerable shortage of qualified quantum technology experts. Much more investment in the training of people to seize intellectual potential is needed. The full range of geographic, age and gender opportunities must be utilized.

The European Challenge is not to be left behind in the second quantum revolution. The recently announced FET-Flagship on Quantum Technologies is a huge step in this direction. However, it needs to be accompanied by actions to coordinate the research and disseminate the results. For the rather narrow field of “Quantum Technologies in Space” there is a new COST action. This leaves open Quantum Technologies with fundamental or “real-world” applications on Earth, which is exactly what AtomQT aims to address.

Relevance and timeliness

Timeliness: The first quantum revolution gave us a theory, which uses quantum mechanics to describe the microscopic world with astonishing accuracy. Its impact touched all aspects of our lives, from computers to lasers and medical imaging. This, however, is only the beginning. The second quantum revolution now tackles the macroscopic quantum world. We have learned only recently how to produce pure quantum objects, with millions of atoms, that are in superposition or in entangled states, and how to perform quantum assisted measurements at an unprecedented level of accuracy. The second quantum revolution is only now starting to make an impact in other sciences and is starting to find its way into real-life applications. The AtomQT proposal has to be seen in the context of a major move towards the application of quantum technologies. The UK is operating a £270M research programme into QT and the EU recently launched a 1B€ FET-Flagship on quantum technologies. AtomQT aims at serving as a central communication hub in this major move.

Relevance to Europe: In many regions of the world manufacturing and labour costs are much lower than in Europe. To remain competitive Europe can only rely on innovation and its ability to transition fast from basic research to high-tech products. Other countries are already heavily investing in quantum technologies: China, for example, is home to the world’s largest atomic fountain and one of the most precise atom gravimeters and has made cold atoms a strategic priority. Similarly, the United States have a very strong research program in quantum applications, which is mostly funded by the US military but also by industry. Europe is the leader in many aspects of the quantum revolution and especially in ultra-cold atoms and interferometry. This COST Action aims at taking advantage of Europe’s role as a world-leader in the field of quantum technologies based on ultracold atoms and at aiding the transfer of this knowledge into real-world designs of new quantum devices.

Relevance of the technology: Cold atoms are invaluable tools in quantum applications because of their unique quantum behavior and exquisite sensitivity. Much of the basic research underpinning many quantum technologies – such as quantum memory, communication and processing – has been performed in this arena. Many of these technologies are being miniaturised with the aim of taking them out of the laboratory and into commercial devices. Examples include miniature gravimeters, inertial navigation and magnetometers. The emerging area of atomtronics is expected to speed up this process considerably.

Cold atom technologies are having a major impact also on our understanding of some of the most pressing questions facing physics by probing the fundamental laws of nature at an unprecedented accuracy. Examples include Einstein’s special and general relativity (equivalence principle, gravitational waves), the constancy of fundamental physical constants, and extensions of the Standard Model. Some of this can be done by table-top experiments, other challenges need larger infrastructures, which require support of Europe as a whole. This will create a lasting focal point, which can be exploited also by researchers from smaller European states.