Five From Finland
Finland’s robust quantum computing ecosystem is rooted in decades of research.Adobe / Julia Bushueva
It’s quantum, baby. We take a look at how Finnish companies and research are helping to make the quantum computing revolution a reality.
Quantum computing sounds like science fiction, but the benefits it can bring are very real. Harnessing this new level of computational power enables researchers to model solutions to various issues, from novel medicines to unhackable digital communication.
“Quantum computing is still at an early stage. However, it has the potential to revolutionise many sectors, from drug and vaccine development to cybersecurity,” Werner Hoyer, president of European Investment Bank (EIB), said in a press release.
Consequently, companies and governments alike are increasingly focusing on the field. A recent study found that 76 per cent of high-performance computing data centres worldwide plan to use quantum computing by 2023 and 71 per cent plan to move to on-premises quantum computing by 2026.
Finland is at the forefront of this development. Quantum technologies have been researched in the country for decades, and the renowned Low Temperature Laboratory was opened in Espoo already in 1965. Since then, an entire ecosystem of companies, research organisations and universities working with quantum computing has sprouted in the country. Continue reading to take a closer look at five of these organisations.
Finnish quantum expertise cannot be discussed without mentioning IQM. The 2018 founded startup is building Europe’s first quantum-dedicated fabrication facilities in Espoo. Furthermore, it just secured a 35 million-euro loan from the EIB to accelerate the development and commercialisation of its quantum processors.
“What we currently have is quite a lot of known algorithms [for solving problems with] quantum computers, but the computers we have, also the ones we are running at IQM or others are running, aren’t powerful enough to execute the algorithms at scale,” IQM CEO Jan Goetz said in an interview with Good News from Finland. “So we need to scale computing power, and this is what we do.”
In other words, the company provides on-premises quantum computers for supercomputing data centres and research labs. This includes working closely with universities and research organisations. For example, IQM is building Finland’s first commercial 54-qubit quantum computer with VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. It is also part of the Q-Exa consortium building a quantum computer in Germany.
A spinoff of Aalto University and VTT, the company today employs over 160 people in its offices in Espoo, Bilbao, Munich and Paris.
Another startup making waves in the quantum ecosystem is Tampere-based Quanscient. The company was founded in September 2021 with the ambitious goal to reinvent simulations by replacing physical prototypes with accurate, cloud-based digital twins.
“In essence, we are building a B2B SAAS product for simulations,” explains Juha Riippi, Quanscient’s CEO and co-founder. “By combining cloud technology with quantum technology, we can already offer our clients an extremely powerful cloud-based solution. And by researching quantum algorithms already now, we are ready for the quantum era when the quantum hardware reaches the required maturity level for our simulations.”
The company focuses on finite element method (FEM) based simulations popular in engineering and mathematical modelling. Think, for example, of all kinds of microelectronics from antennas to transmitters. Quanscient believes its product, which is set to launch in summer 2022, can speed up companies’ product development process as product testing can be done digitally.
“We want to create a world where fast-moving vehicles no longer need to be wind-tunnel tested, electronics companies don’t have to build expensive prototypes and research such as fusion energy can be rapidly accelerated with simulations,” Riippi envisions.
Freezing Finnish winters have nothing on Bluefors. The Helsinki-based company specialises in cryogen-free dilution refrigerator measurement systems. These operate in ultra-low temperatures, a smidgen above absolute zero (-273.15 Celsius).
“Our systems are used for R&D in universities and research facilities. The most known field they are used in at the moment is quantum computing,” David Gunnarsson, Bluefors’s CSO, explained to Helsinki Business Hub.
In practice, Bluefors’s systems are a vital enabler in quantum computing as cold temperatures are required to keep qubits stable. In fact, the company’s cryogenic systems are used by quantum computing companies and organisations worldwide. Currently, Bluefors has more than 700 units on the market and 95 per cent of its systems are exported.
Bluefors was born in 2008 as a spinoff from Aalto University. Its technology is based on research done at the university’s low-temperature laboratory. Today the company has over 250 employees and annual revenue of approximately 80 million euros.
Aalto University offers a wide range of quantum-related studies and research. Still, what recently has made headlines is its researchers’ work in macroscopic quantum entanglement. This research was named the Physics World’s 2021 Breakthrough of the Year.
The prize was awarded to professor Mika A. Sillanpää, his team and collaborators at the University of New South Wales in Australia for establishing quantum entanglement between a pair of macroscopic drumheads. These are mechanical resonators that are tiny but still much larger than the subatomic particles that are usually entangled. Previously, the same award has been given to such findings as the first direct observation of a black hole and the detection of gravitational waves.
What makes the research important is that it advances understanding of the division between the quantum and classical domains. The entangled drumheads offer scientists new tools for probing these boundaries and identifying potential limitations. The entangled resonators could also have practical applications as quantum sensors or nodes in a quantum network.
“Mechanical oscillators are already used very largely in existing technology for their good coherence as filters or as memories,” says Laure Mercier de Lépinay, the study’s lead author. “For these same good properties, they will be used for quantum memories as well. It is then desirable to be able to store and detect the quantum states of mechanical oscillators, and preparing and detecting mechanical entanglement is a part of that.”
Collaboration is at the core of Finland’s quantum ecosystem, and VTT is the epitome of that. The research centre works closely with companies and research organisations on various projects in quantum technology.
For example, the new QuTI consortium coordinated by VTT will develop new components, manufacturing and testing solutions and algorithms for the needs of quantum technology. It’s a joint effort between 12 partners, including Aalto University, Tampere University, Bluefors and IQM, with a total budget of around 10 million euros.
In addition, VTT, Aalto University and Helsinki University have together started InstituteQ, the Finnish Quantum Institute. The institute aims to build a quantum-ready society with a focus on three core functions: education, research and research infrastructure, and innovation and business.
VTT’s pivotal ecosystem role is based on its own strong quantum expertise. It has a dedicated team working to develop hardware components, software and algorithms for quantum computers.
“VTT’s research in quantum technology leads to components and systems that can be used for quantum computing, quantum communication and quantum sensing,” explains Himadri Majumdar, quantum programmes lead at VTT. “All these have a wide impact on society. [For example] with quantum computing we will be able to model new pharmaceutical and vaccine molecules quicker, reducing the development time of life-saving medicines and vaccines.”