Quantum research network

Around the world, the race is on to achieve a decisive breakthrough in quantum research. ETH Zurich is spearheading its own challenge.
In the lab of ETH professor Andreas Wallraff, quantum chips are connected via a mass of signal lines. (Photograph: ETH Zurich / Daniel Winkler)

After 12 successful years, the work of the National Centre of Competence in Research into Quantum Science and Technology has come to an end. Klaus Ensslin, Professor of Solid-State Physics at ETH and NCCR QSIT Director, is delighted with the progress made. “We’ve had key breakthroughs in a whole range of areas, which has taken quantum research to a totally new level,” he explains. “Researchers are getting better and better at combining quantum objects to form complex systems, and that brings us a whole lot closer to building things like quantum computers.”

With the conclusion of NCCR QSIT, attention will now focus on advancing this work and consolidating Switzerland’s strong position in this exciting field. The recent progress in quantum research has fuelled high expectations, with huge investment continuing to flow from both national research authorities and companies around the world. This was what prompted ETH Zurich, back in 2021, to set up its very own Quantum Center, which brings together a range of disciplines under one roof. To date, 34 professorships from 6 departments have joined. “The idea is to raise the public profile of quantum research at ETH Zurich,” explains ETH professor and founding director Andreas Wallraff. “At the same time, we aim to encourage internal interaction and collaboration.”

If an interdisciplinary setup makes sense in this field, it is because quantum research has long ceased to be the exclusive domain of physics. Building a powerful quantum computer, for example, means being able to hook up a multitude of quantum objects. This, in turn, requires the combined knowledge of physicists as well as engineers and computer scientists.

On a national level, the new Swiss Quantum Initiative aims to preserve this crucial network of research and collaboration. “Equally important, it will give greater weight to quantum research on the national research agenda,” explains ETH professor Jonathan Home, who sits on the Swiss Quantum Commission at the Swiss Academy of Sciences and is also Co-Director of the Quantum Center. “This is vital because quantum research is directly impacted by the current political differences between Switzerland and the EU.” With Switzerland no longer an associate member of the EU’s Horizon research framework programme, Swiss researchers are now ineligible to participate in the EU’s Quantum flagship programme. As a bridging solution, the Swiss government has therefore instructed the Swiss National Science Foundation to set up the Quantum Transitional Call funding scheme, which replaces funding for quantum research that could otherwise have been applied for via the EU programme.

Quantum Master’s programme

In addition to building new networks and setting up its own quantum research centre, ETH is also making a number of key changes to teaching and infrastructure. It has now been four years since the launch of its specialised Master’s programme in quantum engineering, which accepts between 30 and 40 graduates a year. The course is proving very popular as it gives students the opportunity to work closely with a research group while still at the Master’s stage. In fact, the model has been such a success that it is already inspiring other universities to offer similar courses.

At the same time, construction of a landmark physics building is now under way on the Hönggerberg campus. From 2029 onward, ultrasensitive quantum experiments will take place here, deep below the earth’s surface. The special labs will be protected against external vibrations, electromagnetic radiation and temperature fluctuations.

Funding for the ETH Quantum Center

Donor support for the Quantum Center at ETH Zurich helps fund the further development of technology foundations for the production of quantum computers as well as a fellowship programme for outstanding doctoral students and postdocs.