Photonic Quantum Technologies – Pioneering Impulses from the Rhenish Region

Kryostat des Quantencomputers am Forschungszentrum Jülich.
© Forschungszentrum Jülich / Sascha Kreklau.
Cryostat of a quantum computer at Forschungszentrum Jülich.
Laboratory prototype for a low-noise quantum frequency converter.
© Fraunhofer ILT, Aachen, Germany.
Laboratory prototype for a low-noise quantum frequency converter.

On March 7, 2022, leading universities and research institutions in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) gave the starting signal for the competence network "EIN Quantum NRW," initiated by the state government of NRW. In this network, these universities and institutes are pooling their expertise in researching and implementing quantum technologies to help players from industry and science network more effectively, and to create a broad knowledge infrastructure. Also on board is the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, which is focusing on technology transfer to industry.

Together with the Fraunhofer Institutes FHR, IAIS, IMS and SCAI located in NRW, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT and the Research Center Jülich are establishing a Center of Quantum Science and Engineering (CQSE) in the Rhineland region. The partners are thus spurring on the establishment of a high-growth innovation ecosystem for quantum technologies in NRW and forming a relevant pillar for practice-oriented research and development in Germany.

On an international level, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft and the Dutch research center QuTech already joined forces in December 2021, signing a Memorandum of Understanding for a close and long-term cooperation in the field of quantum networks. In the run-up to this cooperation, Fraunhofer ILT and QuTech developed a quantum frequency converter with a world record for low noise – a decisive step toward realizing a stable quantum internet. This innovation enables the efficient transfer of quantum information through fiber optic lines already installed by telecommunications service providers: a prerequisite for the rapid networking of quantum computers at different locations. Using this as a basis, the Fraunhofer ILT in Aachen is planning to set up the first German quantum node in a transnational quantum network coordinated by QuTech, which includes the cities of Delft, Leiden, The Hague and Amsterdam.

Quantum technologies offer enormous potential for advancing disruptive applications in areas such as imaging, metrology, communications and computing. Together with international partners from research and industry, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is developing laser-based solutions for the implementation and application of Quantum Technology 2.0, in which the quantum properties of microscopic systems and individual particles can be adjusted, modified and detected in a  controlled manner.

Science and industry can expand their precision toolbox by taking advantage of the completely new possibilities that second-generation quantum technologies offer. Their initial implementation in secure communications, highly sensitive measurement technology, or complex computing tasks such as in chemistry, medicine, climate research, or logistics already makes it quite clear how disruptive these future applications can be. Furthermore, they give the basis for impressive market forecasts by recognized economic experts, as well as justify billion-dollar investments by tech corporations and strong public funding programs by leading economies. Prof. Constantin Haefner, Director of the Fraunhofer ILT, sums up the direction further activities will take: “In order to advance the disruptive applications of quantum technologies in Europe in the long term, we must now work hand-in-hand to successively develop these into market-ready applications and anchor the know-how here.”

Photonics for Quantum Technology 2.0

Photonics is a key to applications based on quantum technology. Fraunhofer ILT scientists are investigating how microscopically limited systems can be mastered with the “tool of light” and how quantum systems can be made accessible in a controlled manner. This involves the practical use of the properties of individual photons, electrons or atoms as well as quantum effects such as the superposition of states and entanglement for novel applications.

Single photons can be used, for example, to selectively transmit quantum information and to interconnect quantum processors at different locations. Unlike other quantum systems, photons not only are stable under cryogenic environmental conditions, but also can be transmitted over longer distances without losing relevant quantum information. Moreover, lasers can control and read out the state of various quantum systems. Laser technology is also used to manufacture components of quantum technology such as ion traps or micro-optical systems. 

Parametric source for the generation of entangled photons.
© Fraunhofer ILT, Aachen, Germany / Volker Lannert.
Parametric source for the generation of entangled photons.

Fraunhofer ILT initiates strategic initiatives

Thanks to its expertise in laser technology and other optical technologies, Fraunhofer ILT is contributing to a broad range of topics in order to advance comprehensive scientific cooperation with German and international partners, achieve outstanding R&D results and open up new areas of application for quantum technologies. “We want to play a leading role internationally in implementing and using quantum technologies,” says Prof. Constantin Haefner. In addition to research, the institute is focusing on education and training as well as on the transfer of qualified quantum technology experts to industry. Here, its proximity to RWTH Aachen University and the Jülich Research Center plays a decisive role. Together with its partners, Fraunhofer ILT is initiating strategic alliances and research clusters in and outside the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft in order to open the way for a high-growth innovation ecosystem for quantum technologies in NRW. In addition to locally anchoring international key players in quantum technologies, the institute is also helping companies establish themselves as spin-offs of the major research players.

These activities make a significant contribution to the state-wide competence network EIN Quantum NRW, which was launched on March 7, 2022. In it, leading universities and research institutions in the state pool their expertise in researching and implementing quantum technologies, both to help players from industry and science networking effectively and to create infrastructures for knowledge and technology transfer.

Center of Quantum Science and Engineering CQSE: Innovation Ecosystem for Quantum Technologies in the Rhenish region

Together with top researchers and companies, the Fraunhofer Institutes in NRW (ILT, FHR, IAIS, IMS, SCAI) are developing solutions for implementing and applying quantum technologies ranging from communication and computing to imaging and sensor technology. They are focused on building bridges between excellent basic research and companies at an early stage and, thus, developing a high-growth innovation ecosystem for quantum technologies. Accordingly, Fraunhofer, together with Forschungszentrum Jülich, is the driving force behind establishing a Center of Quantum Science and Engineering (CQSE) in the Rhineland region. Fraunhofer specializes in application-oriented research in direct contact with industrial customers and is well-known for its start-up spirit. For example, Fraunhofer ILT in Aachen alone has spun off more than 40 SMEs in 30 years. The Fraunhofer institutes contribute a broad portfolio of cutting-edge technologies to the development of quantum technology, ranging from laser technology to semiconductor-, microwave- and cryotechnologies to high-performance computing, often making it possible to industrially implement applications in the first place. In NRW in particular, users from the chemical, medical, pharmaceutical, logistics and production sectors will soon benefit from the new possibilities offered by large computing centers for modeling and simulation. Here, the proximity to know-how centers with supporting expertise in quantum computing is very important in international competition.

On the way to the Quantum Internet: Close Cooperation between Fraunhofer and QuTech 

European science, industry and society need to make a major and transnational step forward in quantum technologies to be well positioned in international competition, especially against the USA and China. In a long-term partnership, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft and QuTech – a collaboration of TU Delft and the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research TNO – are therefore working closely together on developing the quantum internet and on facilitating knowledge transfer.

For example, QuTech and Fraunhofer agreed in a Memorandum of Understanding in December 2021 to collaborate on constructing complex international quantum networks. Prof. Constantin Haefner gives a promising outlook: “We are planning to install the first German quantum node of a cross-border quantum network at Fraunhofer ILT in Aachen and thus want to further strengthen the science and business location NRW in the field of quantum technologies.”

Laboratory prototype for a low-noise quantum frequency converter.
© Fraunhofer ILT, Aachen, Germany.
With QuTech, Fraunhofer ILT is developing e.g. key components for the quantum internet (shown here: laboratory prototype for a low-noise quantum frequency converter).

In the run-up to this cooperation, QuTech and Fraunhofer ILT have achieved a decisive success that will help realize quantum networks – a quantum frequency converter with a world record in terms of low noise and, in perspective, of high signal-to-noise ratios. This enables efficient transmission of entangled single photons through already installed fiber optic lines of telecommunication service providers. The converter is a key component for the demonstration of the first fully entanglement-based quantum internet at QuTech, for which qubits will soon be connected to optical fibers in Delft, Leiden, The Hague and Amsterdam. 

AKL´22 - International Laser Technology Congress will take place in Aachen, Germany, from May 4-6, 2022.

Photonic Quantum Technologies at the International Laser Technology Congress AKL´22

Results from quantum research, potentials of new quantum technologies and current approaches for industrial applications are the focus of the new expert forum “Quantum Technology & Photonics” at the upcoming AKL´22 - International Laser Technology Congress, hosted by Fraunhofer ILT in Aachen. On Wednesday May 4, 2022, quantum technology experts and interested parties from industry and academia will gather at AKL´22 to explore current photonic developments in quantum computing, sensing, and communication with speakers from renowned institutions. 

AKL´22 expert forum “Quantum Technology & Photonics”

Program of the expert forum at AKL'22 - International Laser Technology Congress in Aachen, Germany

Competence Network »EIN Quantum NRW«

Press release from Forschungszentrum Jülich dated March 7, 2022

Quantum technologies at Fraunhofer ILT

Further information on quantum technologies at Fraunhofer ILT