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Quantum 'impact project' delivering real benefits

5 October 2023

From giving evidence to a government inquiry to inspiring the next generation of scientists and entrepreneurs, the IOP’s quantum ‘impact project’ has generated significant impact, including a new IOP group, reports IOP Director of Science, Innovation and Skills Louis Barson.

The pace of development of the quantum sector in the UK shows no sign of slowing and an exciting recent period for the IOP is a sign that things are ramping up.

I was privileged to be asked recently to give evidence to the government’s Commercialising Quantum Technologies inquiry, and was able to stress the need for training across a whole range of quantum skills, particularly at PhD level and the crucial opportunity to seed an EDI-first approach to build it in a way that is inclusive and sustainable.

This request to attend didn’t come out of nowhere – we were asked because the government knew the physics community had important and influential views. In 2022 the IOP ran an ‘impact project’ – engaging the community and supporting development of a National Quantum Strategy.

The strategy was announced earlier this year, and it reflects the community’s views well: it’s ambitious, well targeted, and backed by the promise of significant long-term funding with a commitment of £2.5bn over 10 years. But implementation is key: we need to make sure we make it easy for large companies to develop and use quantum tech, ensure the smart patient capital investors are looking to the UK for scale-ups, shout about our commitments domestically and internationally to build on the amazing work being done by UK organisations in quantum, and make the UK a thriving hub of next-gen innovation. View the committee hearing.

Louis Barson speaking at the Science, Innovation and Technology Committee

Louis Barson, IOP's Director of Science, Innovation and Skills, at the Commercialising Quantum Technologies inquiry

To celebrate the amazing year in quantum and the landmark launch of the National Quantum Strategy, we held a celebratory round table and networking dinner for some of the key stakeholders in universities, business, finance and government we have worked with this year. We have produced a summary report of this meeting of minds to capture some of the achievements and hopes for the future that the sector feels is key.

On 2 October 2023 we were delighted to announce the second annual IOP quantum Business Innovation and Growth (qBIG) prize, run, as last year, by the IOP’s qBIG group – an IOP member-driven group supporting the growing business community of industrial quantum physicists, engineers, innovators and entrepreneurs – and leading quantum venture capital investors Quantum Exponential.

Launched at the City Quantum Summit 2023 by qBIG committee member Dr Harriet van der Vliet of Oxford Instruments, the prize recognises small and medium-sized companies taking quantum technology products or solutions to market. Find out more about the qBIG prize.

Last year’s winners Cerca Magnetics brought to market the world’s first wearable magnetoencephalography scanner, quantum brain-scanning technology which measures human brain function in health and disease, winning the £10,000 prize and access to the IOP Accelerator centre and network.

The IOP also recently welcomed 120 A-level physics and computer science students to our building in Caledonian Road, London, to take part in a Quantum Coding Challenge Day, co-organised with our friends at Orca Computing. The students undertook quantum coding challenges and heard more about careers and developments in quantum from experts including River Lane and Phasecraft.

We were particularly happy to welcome so many students from backgrounds currently underrepresented in those that study and have careers in physics, all part of our ongoing work to improve diversity in and access to physics.

As quantum-focused organisations develop in this country we need to make sure we have the right infrastructure, the right level of investment and a good supply of trained, talented people to grow this vital sector.

Our quantum ‘impact project’ has been a big success – helping shape one of the most important technology strategies of recent years and stimulating all this important activity.

But of course quantum technologies are just one example of how physics innovation is leading the way. As our Physics and the Economy report shows, physics-powered innovation is behind 11% of GDP, 10% of employment, and more than one-third of business R&D in the UK.

We want to do more to identify more areas for ‘impact projects’ that can support the physics community to shape the debate, and make a concrete impact. This year, we put out a call for ideas of where we should focus next. There were loads of great ideas, which are playing into 2024 business planning – we’ll be saying more about the impacts this work is having, and where the next focuses will be, very soon!