Occitania makes its mark on quantum physics and its industrial applications

Occitania dreams of a quantum leap and tangled particles. While Emmanuel Macron in mid-January announced a five-year plan of 1.8 billion euros, the region intends to make a name for itself in the landscape of research and quantum industrial applications.

“The two university centers in Toulouse and Montpellier have many very active research laboratories …” thus begins Xavier Marie. This teacher-researcher at Insa Toulouse is at the initiative of the new one Occitan Quantum Institute with her colleagues Isabelle Robert-Philip, researcher at CNRS and David Guéry-Odelin, teacher-researcher at the University of Toulouse-III – Paul Sabatier. “We are not too many three to provide energy to the regional ecosystem around quantum technologies”continues Xavier Marie

Research at such a level can no longer be conducted alone, they recognize. “We can only be strong if we come together! We need to create these networks so that the research community gets to know and trust each other.”as is the case in other areas such as nanotechnology and computers.

First challenge on quantum technologies

The purpose of this Occitan quantum institute, officially born on 1eh January 2021, is therefore to connect regional forces, to put them together, “which is the result of a bottom-up approach by academics from both poles (physics, engineering, etc.), initiated four years ago due to the strategic importance of the subject”, the researcher remembers. Twelve interdisciplinary laboratories are involved, approx 200 researchers in quantum mechanics and engineeringwhich mainly addresses three areas of application: secure communication, sensors and metrology, and quantum simulation.

“The local ecosystem is very important and it must be varied, and each one contributes with their skills in applications, theory, physics or computer science …” acknowledges Frédéric Magniez, research director at the Institute for Research in Fundamental Computer Science (Irif). This holder of annual chair in computer science and digital sciences at the Collège de France cites as an example the success of the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo in Canada.

The synergies within the Occitan quantum “hub” make it the third national force after Ile-de-France (PCQC, Sirteq) and the Rhône-Alpes basin (Quantum Engineering Grenoble). Financially supported by the region, Institut quantique occitan is also interested in interfaces to major manufacturers and training in quantum engineering. “We are thinking together with large corporations, such as IBM in Montpellier or Airbus, Thales and CNES in Toulouse, of the strategies to be put in place to strengthen public-private partnerships and regional expertise.”continues Isabelle Robert-Philip.

Application research is a necessity. In early 2021, as part of a “Quantum Technologies” Key Challenge, led by CNRS, a first call for projects made it possible to award 12 doctoral dissertation scholarships and 9 postdoctoral contracts. The team is also eager to involve local start-ups and VSEs SMEs in this dynamic.

Educate engineers in quantum technologies

“The idea is to listen to the demands of manufacturers who fear being held back in terms of innovation due to lack of competencies. Educational measures will be offered or strengthened at the level of engineering schools and PhD students in undergraduate education as well as for engineers and technicians in continuing education.explains Isabelle Robert-Philip.

Admittedly, some engineering schools in France have courses that integrate lessons into quantum physics or introduction to technologies quantum, “but it is still very inadequate. We really have a card to play, also in the university educations”insists Xavier Marie.

The Occitan Institute does not intend to work in a vacuum. “We will work with the other hubs already mentioned, but also with players from Provence or Aquitaine, where a similar institute has just been launched”adds Isabelle Robert-Philip, recalling the importance of build their actions at national and European level. “By opening up all forms of collaboration, primarily on two themes that we have identified with manufacturers: sensors and quantum communication to space. On this last aspect, we are a leader in Occitanie with developing demonstrators, projects on a European scale. »

Speed ​​up research to move forward

Quantum technologies are evolving very fast … Also academics, like industrialists, have understood that a good circle must be established between a much upstream research, applied research and technological research. “This field without basic research can not exist, nor a very fast transfer to the application”sums up Xavier Marie.

One of the major challenges of the Occitan initiative will be that maintain momentum in the long runwell beyond the four years the region’s “Key Challenge” was to last. “We are still looking for other sources of funding, especially with a state regional planning contract for quantum technologies to equip our laboratories with large equipment and Feder funds. It is a total of 15 to 20 million euros mobilized over five years.”he concludes.

Finally, in this near future, Irif’s research director, Frédéric Magniez, wonders about the new academic perspectives. “After promoting exchanges, meetings, stimulation in the world of research on the one hand and with industrialists on the other, the question remains whether one should quickly set up a new laboratory to find in which directions one should go…”

OUR QUARTER FUTURE, STATEMENT ON 25 MAY

The City of Economy and Jobs of Tomorrow, in Montpellier, will host a 100% online event on Tuesday, May 25, dedicated to the future of quantum technologies. “Tomorrow I will be a quantum mechanic! offers a dive into the current state of knowledge, its applications in our daily lives and the prospects for the medium term. >> For more information and to register …

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