Wits University receives R8m for quantum computing initiative

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IBM’s quantum computer.
IBM’s quantum computer.

Wits University has secured R8 million in seed funding from the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), which it says will be channelled towards implementing phase one of the South African Quantum Technology Initiative (SA QuTI).

Approved by the DSI earlier this year, the SA QuTI is a national undertaking that seeks to create conducive conditions in SA for a globally-competitive research environment in quantum computing technologies, and to grow the local quantum technology industry.

Through its newly-formed WitsQ initiative, one of the major quantum research institutes in Africa, Wits University says it is the official host of the SA QuTI, and will administer and manage the funds.

The institution will also coordinate the implementation of the SA QuTI.

“The objective is to move South Africa into a quantum future, where government, industry and academia work together for the development and deployment of quantum technologies,” says professor Andrew Forbes, director of WitsQ and director of the Structured Light Laboratory in the Wits School of Physics.

“It is a very exciting time to be in quantum, and I believe Wits has an important role to play in this field. We are regarded as world leaders in high-dimensional entanglement, we have unique experimental facilities, and our WitsQ initiative is home to an enthusiastic quantum community that has no traditional discipline boundaries.”

Wits University believes it has a unique quantum advantage through its partnership with IBM Research, by becoming the first African partner on the IBM Q Network, and has access to its 50-qubit quantum computer.

The partnership enables a gateway for academics across SA and to the 15 universities that are part of the African Research Universities Alliance, to drive innovation in frontier-technologies to benefit African-based researchers, academics and students to access quantum computing capabilities at the click of a button – through IBM’s quantum computer.

The SA QuTI is a consortium of five universities: Wits University, Stellenbosch University, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Cape Peninsula University of Technology and University of Zululand.

According to Wits, in phase one, the funding will be used, among other projects, to support quantum technology development initiatives at Wits University, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Cape Peninsula University of Technology and National Metrology Institute of South Africa.

In phase two, the SA QuTI aims to create critical mass in quantum technology research leadership across the country through senior and emerging research chairs. It also seeks to achieve greater diversity and demographics in quantum technology research emanating from SA by creating new centres of quantum research in previously disadvantaged institutions.

Dr Robin Drennan, director for research development in the university's research office, explains: “This initial grant from the DSI is received with deep gratitude. Quantum technologies offer a new frontier of research and innovation, and this grant shows a clear and confident vision expressed by the department.

“It is so important to support the existing research efforts in this budding area to ensure SA remains competitive in these areas of endeavour. It will, of course, also add impetus to Wits’s efforts in the field of quantum technologies and our access to a 50-qubit quantum computer.”

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