What the Swiss Quantum Initiative means for EPFL's Quantum Community

© 2023 Pasquale Scarlino

© 2023 Pasquale Scarlino

To solidify and strengthen Switzerland’s leading position in quantum, in 2022 the Swiss Federal Council formed the Swiss Quantum Initiative (SQI). This initiative is led by the Swiss Quantum Commission, a group of experts from academia and industry across Switzerland, including EPFL professor Anna Fontcuberta i Morral.

The aim of the Swiss Quantum Initiative is to consolidate Switzerland's excellent position in the field of quantum technology and to strengthen its competitiveness at international level. They plan to do this in four ways:

  • Focus research funding by defining the framework for competitive calls subsequently conducted by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF);
  • Nationally coordinate development of infrastructures and platforms for the transfer of knowledge and technology;
  • Develop attractive curricula and evaluate measures to meet the high demand for specialists; and
  • Strengthen international partnerships.

The initiative is still in early stages, but has already begun its work. To that end, Prof. Fontcuberta i Morral met with members of the EPFL quantum community on June 23 to discuss what the SQI can offer to them, how they can voice their interests, and what are the future plans for this Initiative.

The Swiss Quantum Initiative and Commission

The Swiss Quantum Initiative (SQI) is coordinated and led by the Swiss Quantum Commission, which is made up of nine members from institutions across Switzerland:

  • Nicolas Gisin, University of Geneva/Constructor University (President of the Commission)
  • Anna Fontcuberta i Morral, EPFL
  • Esther Hänggi, Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts
  • Jonathan Home, ETH Zurich
  • Patrick Maletinsky, University of Basel
  • Kirsten Moselund, PSI Villingen
  • Alexandre Pauchard, CSEM Neuchatel
  • Heike E. Riel, IBM Rüschlikon
  • Wolfgang Tittel, University of Geneva/Constructor University
© 2023 Swiss Quantum Commission

The Commission meets on a monthly basis and each member represents the quantum community of their institution, except for Prof. Gisin who should remain neutral.

The SQI is hosted by the Swiss Academy of Sciences SCNAT and mandated by the Swiss Confederation. Dr Andreas Masuhr is the head of the Initiative on behalf of SCNAT and Dr Monique Bolli is in charge of the Initiative from SERI.

For 2023-25, the Commission is currently preparing a 16M CHF SNSF call, out of a total budget of 24M CHF. There is a planned increase in funding for the SQI for 2025-2028.

The objective of the SQI is to “strengthen Switzerland's leading position across the entire value chain”, which they see as comprised of five categories:

  1. Basic research
  2. Applied research
  3. Tech transfer and prototyping
  4. Commercial startup
  5. Industrial scaling

This means that along with supporting research at universities, the SQI will also be focused on vocational training and apprenticeships outside of academia. Creating mutually beneficial relationships with industry will also be prioritized.

So far, the commission is working on bringing Switzerland’s quantum institutions together, mapping quantum competencies nationwide, preparing the SNSF call, and meeting with Swiss quantum companies to understand their needs.

EPFL Quantum Community

During the meeting on June 23, over a dozen members of EPFL’s quantum community had the opportunity learn more about the SQI and to ask Prof. Fontcuberta i Morral and Dr Masuhr questions about the SQI in order to better understand how it can be of benefit to them and their research.

Prof. Fontcuberta i Morral explained that as the EPFL representative to the SQI, she is the first point of contact for any issues a researcher wants to share or advocate for, and she will take it to the Commission meetings. For event support from the SQI, the best course of action is to coordinate with the Quantum Center of your institution and email her with Prof. Gisin and Dr Masuhr in copy, and to expect a reply within a month.

Much of the discussion with the EPFL quantum researchers also centered around the next SNSF call on quantum. In particular, researchers asked about the definition of quantum, which it was explained for the grant would be similar to that used by the EU Quantum Flagship. As with other SNSF grants, the main criteria is “scientific excellence”. A principal investigator could apply to this call even if they already hold an existing SNSF grant, provided there is no clear scientific overlap between the projects.

There was also the question about what was the definition of success for the SQI and what type of impact was considered most important. Dr Masuhr explained that the criteria for evaluation and success will be defined more precisely in the coming months.

Looking ahead

One important point made by Prof. Kirsten Moselund of PSI, who is also a member of the Commission, is that the SQI should be a way of coordinating quantum work done in Switzerland so that there is not duplication of efforts. This is the reason that the Commission is mapping the country’s quantum competencies in research, industry, and the centers.

In addition, an international partnership of major scientific bodies and academies is preparing a resolution for the 2023 General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the 2023 General Assembly of the United Nations to proclaim 2025 the International Year of Quantum Science and Technology. The Swiss Quantum Initiative will have an important role to play in consolidating Switzerland’s contribution and activities for 2025 to increase public awareness about these important and globally impactful technologies.