Why it is vital to support foundational research in quantum

Guest Contributor
December 13, 2023

Editor’s note: The inaugural qConnect summit, held in Calgary in November, drew participants from across North America and Europe. The event, hosted by Quantum City, and The Quantum Major Innovation Fund Project, qConnect 2023 was an opportunity for quantum creators and users to connect, while showcasing quantum R&D at the University of Calgary and the province of Alberta’s dedication to quantum adoption and commercialization. An integral part of qConnect 2023 was the launch of the Quantum City Challenge, a global quantum computing competition addressing complex problems in the energy industry. Partnering with Alberta energy leaders ATCO and Canadian Natural Resources, the challenge posed three problem statements for quantum experts and enthusiasts from around the world: EV charging optimization; tailings treatment; and bitumen viscosity for transportation effectiveness. The challenge, open until March 2024, will demonstrate the readiness of quantum technologies specific to industry in Alberta and showcasing the potential to solve real-world challenges. In light of the inaugural qConnect annual summit, Research Money’s weekly “Thought Leaders” series presents a column by community leader Richard Bird on the vital importance of supporting quantum science. Bird and four other philanthropists donated a total of $12 million to establish the $25-million Quantum Horizons Alberta initiative to expand foundational knowledge of quantum science and pursue transformational research into the potentials of quantum physics. 

By Richard Bird

Richard Bird (photo at right) is the retired executive vice-president, corporate development and chief financial officer of Enbridge Inc., retired chairman of Alberta Investment Management Corp., and founder and president of Ptarmigan Charitable Foundation. This op-ed initially appeared here.

Quantum science underpins all other science, and yet, most people don’t know that much about it – including scientists. The unusual properties and behaviours of the tiniest components of the universe are still full of mystery and enormous potential.

Unravelling that mystery is worth investing in. I believe it’s vital. The discoveries from research in quantum science at its most basic level, theoretical science, could be transformational to the human condition.

Advances in quantum science are already a part of our day-to-day lives in the form of medical imaging, lasers and sensors. But the potential is so much greater. It promises major advances in computing power in the near future, where quantum computers will likely be housed by large research facilities, corporations and governments to bolster things such as national security, highly secure communications and energy-free motion – plus so much more we can’t yet imagine.

Canada cannot risk falling behind in the quest to understand its immense potential.

That’s why I joined four other visionary Canadians – Joanne Cuthbertson, Patrick Daniel, Guy Turcotte and Mac Van Wielingen – in partnership with three Alberta-based research universities to establish Quantum Horizons Alberta.

This new $25-million network uniting the University of Alberta, the University of Calgary and the University of Lethbridge is dedicated to pursuing transformational research into the mysteries of quantum science.

How do we do that? By recognizing the intrinsic value of discovery-based research, and letting the brightest minds focus on the building blocks of the universe.

The strategy for establishing Quantum Horizons Alberta in the forefront of global quantum research is to bring in the best and brightest minds in the field, both well-established senior scholars and high-potential early-career scholars, to augment the existing bench strength in Alberta. This will include eight new faculty to begin with and as many or more promising postdoctoral fellows, as well as funding numerous PhD students.

Critical first step to establish a globally recognized centre for excellence

This is a critical first step in establishing a globally recognized centre of excellence for foundational quantum research in Canada. Opportunities like Quantum Horizons Alberta are key to ensuring Canada stays at the forefront of this emerging industry and area of research. Without foundational research, we risk missing out on discoveries that could change the way we live in and understand the world.

Leveraging Alberta’s robust research ecosystem – already home to quantum research and innovation excellence – Quantum Horizons Alberta has the potential to elevate Canada’s stature in fundamental quantum science research, lay the foundation for advances in the field, attract and retain high-calibre scientists, and train the next generation of experts. The work that happens here in Canada will give future researchers the understanding they need to solve today’s global challenges, as well as challenges we cannot yet anticipate.

Canada can become an established destination for quantum – and a hub for Canadian-made discoveries.

To accomplish this, collaboration is essential. Experimenting with thought works best when ideas are discussed and bounced around – when the brightest minds work as a team and let their biggest and best ideas rise to the top. We established Quantum Horizons Alberta knowing that our chances of achieving a position on the world stage in quantum research are much greater the more resources we gather.

When the five of us decided to invest in Quantum Horizons Alberta, it was not merely a philanthropic endeavour. It was an investment in our shared future.

And the payoff will be so much larger when others join us in supporting foundational research – in quantum or other life-changing fields.


Other News

Events For Leaders in
Science, Tech, Innovation, and Policy

Discuss and learn from those in the know at our virtual and in-person events.

See Upcoming Events

Don't miss out - start your free trial today.

Start your FREE trial    Already a member? Log in


By using this website, you agree to our use of cookies. We use cookies to provide you with a great experience and to help our website run effectively in accordance with our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.