November 5, 2021

Securing the UK’s quantum future

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) is helping to secure the future of quantum in the UK, thanks to its world-leading research estate in the Liverpool City Region.

Hartree Centre

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) is helping to secure the future of quantum in the UK, thanks to its world-leading research estate in the Liverpool City Region.

As part of two collaborations with industry partners, STFC facilities have secured funding under UK Research and Innovation’s £50million Commercialising Quantum Technologies.

In these collaborations, STFC will take part in revolutionary quantum computing projects including its Hartree Centre and Scientific Computing Department, based at Daresbury Laboratory.

Revolutionising computing 

Quantum computers have the potential to revolutionise computing. As well as being faster than conventional technology allows, the way they harness the properties of quantum mechanics enables them to solve very complex problems that existing computers cannot.

A good example is the £4.7million Quantum Enhanced Computing Platform for Pharmaceutical R&D (QuPharma) project, led by quantum computing company SEEQC and a consortium of partners including STFC.

SEEQC UK will collaborate on the project with Merck, Riverlane, Oxford Instruments and University of Oxford alongside the National Quantum Computing Centre (NQCC), STFC’s Hartree Centre and Scientific Computing Department.

The NQCC is being delivered by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and STFC.

Revolutionising drug discovery  

The project uses a quantum computer alongside a classical supercomputer to model the properties of drugs. This will speed up drug development by a factor of ten. 

Currently, supercomputers are used to predict and model the effect of drugs, reducing need for testing. But this is a very difficult task, even for the most powerful supercomputer.

Over half of the small number of drugs that reach phase of human trials are unsuccessful in getting approval for commercial use, with all that research effort going to waste.

Dr Michael Cuthbert, Director of the National Quantum Computing Centre, said: “Pharmaceutical is a significant end-user sector for quantum computing. I am excited to be joining this project and working with our consortium partners to tackle some of the key engineering bottlenecks to the commercial delivery of NISQ applications. As devices are scaled up, NQCC will support the hardware testing and the integration of quantum resources into established classical infrastructure, through colleagues across the STFC – from both the Hartree Centre and Scientific Computing Division.”

STFC’s Scientific Computing Department will be using a piece of software called ChemShell for this project, a modular computational chemistry software package with a particular focus on multiscale quantum mechanical and molecular mechanical  simulations. It was developed by the Scientific Computing Department in collaboration with research groups worldwide.

Tom Griffin, Director of the Scientific Computing Department, said: “By building a quantum computing infrastructure and developing the hardware here will give the UK a strong national capability.  The Scientific Computing Department plays an important role as a key element in integrating high performance computers with quantum computers will be our ChemShell software, which will enable us to simulate chemical systems with unprecedented accuracy in realistic environments.

“This means that drug components will be identified faster and the failure rates of identifying potential candidate molecules will be reduced – so research and development costs will drop, making the drugs more affordable.”

Robust quantum computing platform 

STFC’s Hartree Centre is also involved in another £5.6million project led by Universal Quantum Ltd, in collaboration with Rolls-Royce, Riverlane, and Imperial College London.

The project team will develop a more robust quantum computing platform that is more accurate and less reliant on cryogenic cooling. Working with Rolls Royce the project will apply the novel computer to key problems in the aerospace industry.

Alison Kennedy, Director of STFC Hartree Centre, said: “With a strong track record of industry collaboration in high performance computing and emerging technology, the Hartree Centre is excited to be a partner in these projects to investigate the potential of hybrid classical and quantum computing approaches to solving previously intractable computational fluid dynamics challenges which have the potential to pave the way for early adoption of quantum computing technologies in the aeronautics sector and beyond. We are also delighted to be contributing our expertise in HPC software and workflow development, quantum emulation and molecular discovery to the vitally important work of optimising the drug discovery process in the QuPharma project, where quantum computing has the potential to realise speed-up by a factor of 10.”