Paris and Saclay become the strongholds of quantum research

Posted October 18, 2021, 1:27 pm

In Saclay, as in Grenoble or Paris, scientists and young quantum scientists are smiling. Eight months after the launch of the national plan to move the quantum sector from research to industrialization for 1.8 billion in investment, Frédérique Vidal is moving on to practical work. At the end of September, the Minister of Research announced an initial envelope of 150 million euros dedicated to the equipment program managed by CEA, CNRS and Inria (National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation).

The Paris and Saclay laboratories will be at the forefront of the implementation of this plan, whose two flagship projects are the Silicon Quantum Computer and the Very Large Computing Center at CEA in Bruyères-le-Châtel (Essonne), which will house 2023, a 100-qubit hybrid computer. “80% of French quantum research takes place between Paris, Saclay and Grenoble,” recalls Alexandra Dublanche, vice president of the Ile-de-France region in charge of economic development.

According to a recent study by the Paris Region Institute, the Ile-de-France sector is on the rise: it has 112 research teams, 850 public researchers and 22 start-ups, placing it in fourth place worldwide in terms of creating and receiving quantum start-ups , after the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. All the ingredients were there to make Saclay and Paris quantum strongholds. “The large groups have their headquarters in Ile-de-France and their research laboratories nearby, the schools are in Saclay, and the skills in mathematics, cryptography, cybersecurity, ultra-cold or laser optics are recognized as excellent there,” says the economist. Thierry Petit, author of the study from the Paris Region Institute.


In late 2018, the creation of Quantonation, a private seed fund created by Charles Beigbeder to support young companies specializing in quantum technologies, gave a decisive boost. From Alice & Bob to Pasqal or Quandela, the young shoots draw not far from the laboratories from which they have often sprung.

Quantum, what is it?

It is a branch of physics that seeks to explain the behavior of atoms and particles. By performing its calculations on an atomic scale, a quantum computer is in theory capable of processing gigantic masses of data and computing much faster by “exploring all paths at the same time”.

The creation of this “ecosystem”, where France has so far lagged behind abroad, is being carefully considered by the Ile-de-France Regional Council, which has launched several calls for expressions of interest. In 2020, the region put a 3 million euro “Quantum PAck” (PAQ) on the table to create synergies between large industrial groups (Total Energies, EDF) and start-ups (Pasqal, Qubit Pharmaceuticals) through three “applications cases”.

The creation of consortia in particular makes it possible to apply for funding

Philippe Duluc Technical Director for Big Data and Security at Atos

In November, for example, the region will vote support for the quantum processor project developed by C12 Quantum Electronics, which will be used to simulate hydrogen conversion mechanisms in the field of energy with the industrialist Air Liquide. “We support quantum, as we previously supported the emergence of AI, because we see that we are heading towards a phase of acceleration and internationalization,” explains Alexandra Dublanche.


At the Saclay Plateau, the Systematic Competitiveness Cluster has also adopted an ambitious roadmap aimed at getting schools, businesses and laboratories to work together. “Creating consortia in particular makes it possible to seek funding,” acknowledges Philippe Duluc, director of big data technology and security at Atos, one of the pilots in Systematic’s quantum “hub”.

There is still a great deal of uncertainty. While many anticipate significant innovations in health (new molecules for medicine), (decarbonized) energy, logistics, transportation, or to increase the capacity of artificial intelligence, no one yet knows when this “great quantum revolution” will take place. “We have not yet reached the production stage, but rather to the prototype phase,” admits Philippe Duluc.

Not enough pioneer users

Atos is in the front line. To accelerate, the leader would like to see major French industrialists become more involved, as do neighboring countries. In Ile-de-France, there are still few “pioneer users” who allow start-ups to test their projects.

The Ile-de-France potential interests foreign start-ups. Four young shots are already installed, KETS Quantum Security and PQShield (UK), Multiverse Computing (Spain) and QCWare (USA). A dozen prospects are underway with the support of Choose Paris Region, the regional attraction agency. According to our information, two companies are being set up, the Finnish company IQM and the Dutch Qu & Co.

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