4 April 2023 Tom Mallah

IQ’s Quantum AlgoLab: Betting on quantum computing in Québec

Quantum programming team : Alexandre Foley, Maxime Dion, Jean Frédéric Laprade, Tania Belabbas, Marco Armenta.

Photo : Michel Caron - UdeS

With the inauguration of a new building last year on the main UdeS campus, the moment had come to further consolidate IQ’s quantum computing capacity

Until recently, quantum computing seemed to be the stuff of science fiction. The level of control exerted on the infinitely small has been perfected in recent years, paving the way for the development of quantum computing, and a multitude of new players in a burgeoning ecosystem.

As a sign of the need to position oneself today in this field, Canada has followed suit to the United States and Europe by announcing in January the launch of its own national quantum strategy. This strategy emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinary research between industry and academia to stimulate discoveries and technology transfers, and the need to attract and train quantum expertise in Canada:

The National Quantum Strategy (NQS) aims to amplify Canada’s significant strength in quantum research; grow Canadian quantum-ready technologies, companies and talent; and solidify global leadership in quantum science and its commercialization.” – Excerpt from the NQS

Québec continues to carve out an enviable position for itself in quantum science and technology across the country. The Université de Sherbrooke’s Institut quantique (IQ) occupies a central place, especially in quantum computing.

A logical next step

In June 2020, IQ launched its IBM Quantum Hub, the first of its kind in Canada. Through this unique partnership, IQ was able to provide companies and educational institutions with research support and access to IBM’s quantum computing systems. The project has borne fruit through research partnerships, notably with the Bank of Canada and Statistics Canada.

In 2022, the Quebec government inaugurated the Quantum Science Economic Innovation Zone in Sherbrooke, and unveiled the purchase of a quantum computer, the IBM Quantum System One. which will be located in Bromont and managed by a non-profit organization, the Platform for Digital and Quantum Innovation in Quebec (PINQ2). At the same time, PINQ2 now provides access to IBM’s quantum systems.

For IQ, this development is the culmination of a process that began long ago: “Currently, there is not only a lot of interest for quantum science and technology but a strategic desire to position Quebec as an international hub. The Université de Sherbrooke has been investing in quantum science for more than 40 years, and Institut quantique reflects this vision,” explains Jean Pierre Perrault, vice-dean of research at the UdeS.

The Quantum Algorithm Laboratory, better known as the AlgoLab, represents the logical next step for IQ:

Institut quantique focuses on three research axes: quantum materials, quantum computing and engineering. With the Quantum AlgoLab, we are further developing our capacity in quantum computation and algorithms not only through several research projects and our expertise on IBM systems in partnership with PINQ2, but we are also paving the way for new collaborations outside the field with potential users of quantum computing, both in academic research and industry, says Christian Sarra-Bournet, executive director of the IQ. We want to continue to be a reference in Quebec and Canada in quantum computing, and we have the infrastructure, partnerships and expertise to do so.

IQ has assembled a diverse team in quantum programming that is currently working on a dozen industrial and academic research projects. With the increased demand for quantum computing, the AlgoLab team has nearly tripled since its inception in 2020, which now includes five developers who work closely with companies like Leddartech and Thales. The Quantum AlgoLab also supports several research groups at UdeS beyond physics, including biology, chemistry, finance, geomatics, computer science and mathematics.

Supporting the development of a quantum ecosystem

The projected economy around quantum computing in the coming years is growing at a rapidly. The talent needed to meet this growing demand, however, is not keeping pace. The National Quantum Strategy (NQS) emphasizes the workforce challenges and the importance of attracting and retaining expertise in Canada to take advantage of the potential of quantum computing:

Developing, attracting and retaining talent are critical for Canada to succeed in quantum science and technology. The talent shortages already faced by industry and research institutions will intensify as more quantum technologies, products and services become available for broader use.

Since 2020, the AlgoLab has developed a comprehensive series of hands-on workshops that touch on quantum computing, cryptography, optimization and quantum machine learning. To date, more than 5000 students have attended these workshops. This pedagogical approach shares the same educational vision with UdeS, which offers the only bachelor’s degree in quantum information science in Quebec.

Offering training

In parallel, the AlgoLab provides training specifically for companies and government agencies that want to learn about quantum computing. The team has already delivered workshops for CGI, Hydro Quebec, KPMG and the Canada School of Public Service. For Hydro Quebec, the AlgoLab workshops offer a unique opportunity to learn more about the possibilities offered by quantum computing:

High performance computing is burgeoning and quantum technologies hold many dreams as well as threats for the energy world. The training we received from IQ in Sherbrooke allowed our researchers to deepen their knowledge and to better guide us towards an enlightened strategy in the mastery and integration of this technology,” highlights Patrick Jeandroz, head of expertise in Data Science and High-Performance Computing at Hydro Quebec.

The importance of multidisciplinary research projects, collaboration between different players and the development of a quantum community will play a large role in achieving quantum computing’s potential. The current technical breakthroughs, the strong interest and the growing ecosystem suggest many opportunities in this field for Institut quantique and more broadly, for Québec.

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