Monday, December 05, 2016

The Quantum Path (If There Is One)

Today, if we look at technologically advanced countries, one finds quantum science & technology is high on their research agenda. To see this, all one needs is to google the word to find out. IoP, UK has itself recently launched a journal by the same name to show the importance of the field. Our neighbour down south has a research centre named Centre for Quantum Technologies since December 2007 (though the groundwork for it was much earlier than that). What about here? Should we jump into the bandwagon.

Well back in 2003, when I was in Institute of Advanced Technology (ITMA), I invited a colleague from Singapore (L.C. Kwek) for TSLELS2 and he gave the advice that I should look into Quantum Information. Note that this is still considered the early years of the field (Shor's algorithm was in 1994). Singapore at the time has started churning papers in the area. Following his advice, I did try to open up the research program/graduate field of study and coined the term Quantum Science & Technology, which is rarely used at the time. If I'm not mistaken, I had four students graduated under this field of study (2 M.Sc. and 2 Ph.D.). Of course, what we did was not quite conventional quantum information and hence my preference for a more general name. Later for TSLELS4 in 2005, I invited Kwek again for the lecture series event with the theme "Quantum Information" but now with names like Andrew White, Stephen Bartlett, Antia-Lamas Linares and Keiji Matsumoto. Here's a rare pic:

We did even open up a quantum information research lab thereafter. However, after the restructuring of the institute, the lab was closed down and the program went into inexistent (which very much pains me). When I moved to Institute for Mathematical Research, I focus more on the mathematical research related to quantum sciences. I continue the lecture series event and renamed it Expository Quantum Lecture Series. In 2009, the third in EQuaLS series, once again I did one on Quantum Information Science with the speakers Kwek, B.-G. Englert, M. Suhail Zubairy, Thomas Durt, Masahito Hayashi, Stefan Wiegert and Beatrix Hiesmayr (the largest line-up EQuaLS had).

In 2012, we hosted the 6th Asia-Pacific Conference & Workshop in Quantum Information Science. Despite many famous names were there in the conference, there seem to be little interest from within the country (we suffered a substantial financial loss). Since then, I have fear to commit to anything that large.

Today, the quantum information science interest is kept alive in UPM with my students. Elsewhere there are groups in Universiti Malaya and International Islamic University Malaysia plus scattered individuals elsewhere. Many efforts were made to push the idea of quantum science & technology at much more modest level including an LRGS proposal but all were not very successful (we were sometimes told off to be too ambitious in our efforts and projects as such are not workable here).

Thus, whenever there is a call for quantum science venture in the country, I can't help be critical but as well as hopeful. So if I ever sounded negative, it is probably my own past experience of failure, being used, misled or manipulated. On the other hand, I will certainly support such a call so that research in quantum science & technology is alive and thriving here.

Such call on quantum initiatives is best made, if possible, beyond just quantum information science as there are many other areas that can fall into the broad spectrum of quantum science & technology (and hence more inclusive with ramifications even to materials science and nanotechnology). An example is the recent report made by the UK Government of Science, "The Quantum Age: Technological Opportunities". It has the topics:

  • Quantum Clocks
  • Quantum Imaging
  • Quantum Sensing and Measurement
  • Quantum Computing and Simulation
  • Quantum Communications (includes quantum cryptography)
In other places, they may used instead quantum metrology (includes quantum clocks) and quantum devices (includes sensing and measurement). To pursue any of these (particularly experimental ones), one should really analyse the technology gap that is there. Theoretical ventures may be less expensive but they often require sophisticated mathematical tools sometime less taught within our curriculum. Whatever it is, my personal belief is that there is a necessity for us to catch-up if not jump-start on such research capabilities. 

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