The National Physical Laboratory (NPL) is the UK’s National Metrology Institute and home to the Quantum Metrology Institute (QMI). The QMI brings together all of NPL’s cutting-edge quantum science and metrology research and provides the expertise and facilities needed for industry and academia to test, validate, and ultimately commercialise new quantum technologies.
Last year, as part of the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme (NQTP), NPL launched its Quantum Test and Evaluation Programme to support UK economic growth. Through the programme, now in its second year, we are working with partners around the UK to deliver new capabilities to support the test and evaluation of quantum technologies in order to accelerate the commercialisation of new products.
Our Quantum Test and Evaluation programme supports industry by focusing on addressing barriers to innovation and accelerating the commercialisation of quantum technologies. There are multiple parallel workstreams within the programme, all supporting the emerging quantum industry, including the creation of new facilities to enable the testing and demonstration of quantum technologies and the establishment of new test and evaluation services to provide a deeper understanding of new quantum-based products.
The success of year one has reaffirmed the importance of the programme in our aim of delivering the necessary facilities and developing the knowledge required by industry to properly demonstrate the performance of new products to accelerate the commercialisation of new technologies developed in the UK’s national programme.
Building on progress made in year one, our focus for the second year is to continue to develop new capability to support industry, including new services and new schemes to enable industry to utilise the NPL facilities and expertise. We are also working with all the quantum technology university hub groups across the full range of quantum technologies from quantum clocks, quantum sensors, quantum communications and quantum computers. With the British Standards Institution (BSI) we are engaging and informing UK industry as part of the international programme to develop new standards for quantum technologies.
As an independent and impartial National Metrology Institute, NPL is able to provide flexible solutions to tackle real life problems in many different industries, such as semiconductors, sensors, advanced manufacturing, automotive and aerospace, life science, defence and security.
As examples of our expanding capabilities, we work with suppliers of equipment for secure quantum communications and for random number generators using quantum techniques to test and demonstrate that the inherent quantum properties which provide the security or randomness in these devices has been properly implemented.
We can characterise new compact lasers, measuring their performance specifications with high precision against NPL’s primary standards for frequency.
We work closely with companies developing quantum computers based on superconducting materials to test the quality and performance of those materials. This is a critical factor in the scaling of future computers to larger size and higher power. We are also able to characterise the performance of electrical components which have to operate at temperatures close to absolute zero (-273C) where their behaviour, not surprisingly, can be quite different from at room temperature.
One recent project was for Intelliconnect, a manufacturer of radio frequency (RF) connectors, adaptors and cable assemblies. With increasing demands for low temperature electronic components to support the development of quantum computers based on cryogenic platforms, the company required support with a technical problem of bridging the boundary between a deep cryogenic quantum system and its room temperature control circuitry.
Intelliconnect asked NPL to validate the reliable performance of their connector, including tests at low temperature. NPL’s tests have helped the company more fully characterise their component for applications to support the scaling up of quantum device technology in the space-constrained environments of dilution refrigerators.
NPL is also a partner in many collaborative technology development projects led by industry and part-funded by government. In these projects NPL applies our measurement and test capability in direct support of new product development.
Test and evaluation is critical to build confidence in quantum-based products for investors, end users, and manufacturers themselves, many of them SMEs and start-ups. Our testing capability is expanding into new areas of technology and new areas geographically as we seek out the need for test and evaluation within industry.
Rhys Lewis is the Head of the NPL Quantum Metrology Institute, responsible for NPL’s strategic direction in quantum and for leading NPL’s programme as a partner in the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme.