Cambridge, with its long, unparalleled track record of disruptive innovations, has long been recognised as a city of disruptors.
We are living in the age of disruption – the Internet of Things to artificial intelligence, cloud computing to 3D printing, autonomous vehicles to advanced genomics… disruptive tech is all around us, fundamentally changing the way we live our lives and the way in which our ecosystems operate.
There is one particular disruption, however, that we are all still waiting to happen. The disruptor of all disruptors, quantum: a much-hyped ‘holy grail of sorts’, promising to supercharge machine learning and help us finally solve some of our greatest and most complex challenges.
According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, quantum computing will “speed up calculations related to finance, drug and materials discovery, artificial intelligence and others, and crack many of the defences used to secure the internet”. And, according to Business Insider, quantum technology is going to help us “cure cancer, and even take steps to reverse climate change”.
Indeed, we have been waiting patiently for what seems like decades now for the Quantum Age to dawn, relying on little more than a hypothesis to keep us going, while scientists toil over the highly complex quantum mechanics of just being able to maintain “superposition” and “entanglement” for long enough to perform a useful calculation.
One of the many fundamental problems lies in the technical complexities of generating single photons (a third kind of light generation, different to light bulbs or lasers), which can unleash quantum supremacy, as it is known, and ignite the true potential of quantum – whether by performing computations directly, or by enabling computers to be networked together. Most sources used in labs today are extremely inefficient or have to be extremely cold (at the temperature of liquid helium, about minus 270C), which requires large and expensive refrigerators.
However, a Cambridge-based quantum photonics company has developed a technology platform able to source, manipulate, and detect single-photons at room temperature – making the unique properties of the third kind of light not just easier to harness, but quantum photonics a very real, integrable and scalable solution for a range of markets.
In short, this is a game-changer, which is why Nu Quantum is being fêted left, right and centre for holding the key to unlock the full potential of all things quantum – and why the University of Cambridge spin-out is backed by a slew of leading investors (Amadeus Capital Partners, IQ Capital, Ahren Innovation Capital, Seraphim Capital, Martlet Capital); receives funding from the UK government, Innovate UK and Cambridge Enterprise; and has ongoing projects including with BT Group and Airbus.
Nu Quantum is the brainchild of award-winning quantum physicist, Carmen Palacios-Berraquero. In 2018, she was awarded the Jocelyn Bell Burnell Medal and Prize (Institute of Physics) which recognises exceptional early career contributions to physics by a female physicist. This was awarded for Carmen’s work on 2D materials and quantum optics, and, most significantly, for discovering and patenting the unique single-photon source technology which has since been commercialised by Nu Quantum.
Unsurprisingly, Carmen has gone on to win an array of accolades, including being listed in Forbes magazine as a ‘Founders Forum Rising Star 2021’. Most recently, she was listed amongst the ‘Entrepreneurs to Watch’ in the latest edition of Optics & Photonics News magazine.
It’s hard not to get caught up in the hype surrounding quantum – never mind Nu Quantum’s growth – but, as Carmen stoically reminds us: “Quantum, itself, is not yet disruptive. That’s still a few years away – but there is absolutely no doubt that quantum will be hugely disruptive, and more so than we are even able to predict at this stage. When it is, Nu Quantum will provide the photonic backbone to help quantum computers scale and communicate beyond the horizons of current roadmaps.”