Nordics, Baltics and quantum technology: developments and possibilities for cooperation

On March 30, a high-level quantum technology-themed event “Northern Prospects of Quantum” was held in Brussels, organized by the representatives of Estonian, Finnish, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Latvian and Lithuanian research agencies and business organizations in Brussels.

The purpose of the event was to draw the attention of decision-makers and investors to the potential, efforts, and positive developments in the field of quantum technology in the Nordic and Baltic countries.

35 experts from Nordic and Baltic countries gave a comprehensive overview and expertise of what is happening in the region on quantum sector.

According to all predictions, quantum technology will be the next transformative technology that, like the mRNA vaccine and the mobile internet, can revolutionize society. It is therefore important that European researchers and companies monitor and follow the international development of quantum technology and that we do not fall behind other countries in the world, as has happened with several transformative technological developments such as AI. According to Gustav Kalbe (European Commission, DG Connect), it is essential to build a European quantum ecosystem. The European Commission wants this ecosystem to be based on the four pillars of the quantum flagship, which are quantum communication, computing, simulation and metrology. The European quantum ecosystem should also include centers of excellence, competence centers, access to funding, test facilities, infrastructure and design centers. These ecosystems include a variety of research infrastructures and demonstration facilities that can benefit many stakeholders, such as universities, SMEs and large enterprises.

There are many opportunities for commercialization with quantum and it would be great if Europe had not only quantum companies but also unicorn companies in the quantum industry.

Quantum technologies are extremely important in the field of defense industry and space, and the European Commission has allocated considerable sums from its budget for the development of groundbreaking technologies that bring about radical changes, including paradigm shifts in the concept and conduct of defense affairs. So far, 4 quantum-related projects have been financed by the European Defense Fund.

The Finnish quantum community developed a strategy for quantum technology in 2022 and actively participates in various international cooperation projects, involving financial resources from the European Research Council (ERC).

Denmark has both a national quantum strategy implemented in 2022 and an action plan.

The seminar presented the activities of the European Quantum Readiness Center (EQRC), which aims to develop quantum competence and make Europe “quantum ready”.

Important developments in the Nordic and Baltic quantum plans:

Nordic Quantum is a new consortium with a vision to become a globally recognized partner creating the world’s most quantum-aware workforce and the strongest regional quantum consortium. The consortium has the motivation to strengthen cooperation – since the Nordic countries are relatively small players internationally on their own, they need to gather in order to contribute globally. A number of products and projects can develop from the consortium, and these include doctoral training networks, doctoral exchange programs for industry and academia, mobility of researchers and a push for the development of the Nordic quantum ecosystem.

The Nordic Quantum Life Science Center focuses mainly on how quantum technologies can be used in life sciences in areas such as the eye, brain, heart and genomics, as this can be very important in our understanding of molecular biological processes. Quantum applications in life sciences are already being worked on around the world, including in the US, Japan, Germany and the UK. It is important that the Nordic countries are not left behind, and therefore it is positive to see industry initiatives and companies in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden.

The Nordic-Estonian quantum computer e-infrastructure project (NordIQuEst) is based on the idea that they want to start using quantum computers faster, and for this the infrastructure needs to be built faster.

In addition to research and innovation aspects, the European Quantum Software Institute also focuses on the need for quantum education. It is important to train, attract and retain talent in European quantum software in order to achieve Europe’s quantum goals.

Lithuania has a long tradition of research in theoretical and experimental quantum technology. Today, Lithuania cooperates with partners both from the EU and outside, and the country’s government plans to start a national quantum program.

Since quantum policy is carried out at the national or European level, cooperation at the regional level is extremely important. Different countries have the same challenges and therefore transnational solutions may be needed. Research is more effective with collaboration.

In conclusion:

– Many investors are curious about quantum technology but do not have enough knowledge to invest.

– We need excellent research related to societal needs.

– There is currently no discussion on quantum education. It is important to educate students as well as the general public.

– Politics creates motivation.

Several quantum technology experts from Estonia participated in the event, and below is the feedback from Veiko Palge (University of Tartu) and Andi Hektor (GScan) on the event:

Veiko Palge: “The event provided a lot of interesting and additional information. I was particularly interested in the information about the developments taking place in the field of quantum computing software. Both in the startup world and in the sense that large companies keep their finger on the pulse and try to find applications for quantum computers in their fields of activity.

I hope that as a result of this event, we will be able to put together an initiative for quantum technologies in Estonia, similar to the Nordic countries and Latvia. This would be a very important result.

Quantum computers are similar to our regular, conventional computers in the sense that quantum computing can also be conditionally divided into hardware and software. Estonia does not have the capacity to produce hardware in the world of conventional computers. However, we do have our share of capabilities in the field of software creation.

Also, we should think that Estonia’s strategy, or at least one part of it, should not focus on quantum computing software, in order to develop greater competence here, i.e. we could think about the production of software for quantum computers, similar to conventional computers. UT has already had quantum computing subjects in cooperation between the Institute of Physics and ATI for a few years, and bachelor’s and master’s theses in this area are also protected. If the Estonian quantum technology strategy is created as one of the results of this event, then one of the focus points here could be the creation of quantum software competence”.

Andi Hektor: “Participating in the event gave a good overview of what is happening in the field of quantum technologies in Europe, the Nordic countries, the Baltics and Estonia. It often tends to be the case that you can get the best overview of Estonian people in Estonia at events in Brussels. Contacts created and updated are very valuable: I found a new contact at VTT and updated old ones, I got quite a few contacts of Swedish investors, etc.

The quantum community in Estonia is very small, almost non-existent. At the same time, we have interest and connections with many quantum computer and sensor research groups and companies in Estonia. The EU introduced at the event will certainly help Quantum Flagship Program and precisely its Nordic-Baltic dimension to raise local interest. We hope that this event will also trigger the preparation of the “quantum road map” of Estonia.

Since Helsinki has a very good “quantum community” around Aalto University and VTT, it should be used (in a good way) to raise awareness in Estonia. For example, Finland’s IQM cooperates with Estonian electronics manufacturers.

Estonian researchers cooperate with some thematic projects in the EU. On the cutting-edge science side, Griš Blumberg’s ERC Advance Grant at KBFI, which indirectly deals with topological quantum computers, is related to the topic, -superconductivity/. Estonia is about to become a full member of CERN, which has its own “quantum initiative”, mainly on the topic of quantum sensors,

On the business side, we have a few electronics manufacturers that design and manufacture the low-noise electronics needed by the quantum computing “industry”. There are companies that are thinking about quantum sensors in their development programs (such as GScan). There are certain “quantum capabilities” in the field of metrology.

Summary written by:

Kristel Oitmaa
Estonian Liaison Officer for EU R&I in Brussels
ph +372 522 8877