Quantum leap: uOttawa partners with T.O. firm in bid to commercialize high-powered computing technology

Quantum computing

The University of Ottawa is teaming up with a Toronto-based company to develop and commercialize high-powered quantum computing technology.

The university said this week it’s signed a memorandum of understanding with Xanadu, one of the world’s leading suppliers of quantum hardware and software, to create new courses aimed at training the next generation of quantum computing experts as well as develop algorithms to make high-speed quantum computers even more powerful.

The one-year agreement, which has the option of being renewed, is expected to take effect in September. Sylvain Charbonneau, the university’s vice-president of research and innovation, said it will make uOttawa a leader in discovering real-world applications for quantum computing.

“This partnership will help elevate emerging quantum research by giving our students and researchers access to the cutting-edge technologies and expertise held at Xanadu,” he said in a statement. 

“It has the potential to change lives as we train the next generation of quantum pioneers, and work with industry experts to develop and commercialize real-life applications.” 

National strategy

Xanadu will provide an undisclosed amount of funding for the research program. The federal government – which last year said it planned to invest $360 million in a national strategy to advance quantum research – is also expected to help fund the project. 

“Combining uOttawa's deep knowledge in quantum photonics with Xanadu's industry-leading expertise in quantum hardware and software will pave the way for tackling today's most important scientific and engineering challenges,” Josh Izaac, Xanadu's director of product, said in a statement.

Under the agreement, uOttawa researchers will use Xanadu’s hardware and software to test quantum computing technology in real-world settings and help find ways of commercializing it. 

Charbonneau said Xanadu – which was founded in Toronto in 2016 and now employs more than 130 people – will also help the school create new quantum diploma and certificate programs that straddle the “border between science and engineering.”

Quantum computing uses the laws of quantum physics, tapping into the world of atoms and molecules to create computers that are many times faster and more powerful than traditional digital computers.

Charbonneau said the technology has a wide range of applications, including encrypting data to make it more difficult for hackers to crack and creating ultra-powerful sensors for industries such as health care and mining.

The veteran academic said recent market research suggests quantum computing will be an $86-billion industry by 2040.

“It’s going to be big,” he told Techopia on Wednesday afternoon. “If you’re (the Department of National Defence) and you want to communicate securely between A and B, you’re going to use quantum cryptography for sure.”

Growing expertise

Charbonneau said uOttawa currently has more than 70 faculty members involved in quantum research, from faculties as diverse as engineering, law and physics. About a dozen of them will be part of the university’s quantum research team, and they will be assisted by upwards of 100 graduate and PhD students.

The new deal with Xanadu promises to boost uOttawa’s growing expertise in the field of quantum research. 

The agreement comes seven years after the launch of the Max Planck – uOttawa Centre for Extreme and Quantum Photonics. The facility was created to provide a forum for researchers from the university and the Max Planck Society, a non-profit association of German research institutes, to work together on technology such as high-intensity lasers. 

Charbonneau said quantum computing is getting closer to becoming mainstream, and uOttawa hopes to lead the pack when it comes to training developers and programmers.

“Talent really is the new currency, and we’re capable of providing it to the ecosystem,” he said.