From Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne [EPFL-École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne] (CH): “EPFL launches new Center for Quantum Science and Engineering”

From Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne [EPFL-École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne] (CH)

Leila Ueberschlag

EPFL’s new Center for Quantum Science and Engineering (QSE Center) will establish and promote programs for cross-disciplinary research, education and innovation in the fields of quantum science and engineering.

“Developing quantum technology is an incredible venture that puts us face to face with unprecedented scientific and engineering challenges. Meeting these challenges require a concerted effort from all technical disciplines – physics; mathematics; chemistry; computer science; and engineering – more so than for any previous kind of technological development,” says Prof. Vincenzo Savona, the head of EPFL’s Laboratory of Theoretical Physics of Nanosystems. “EPFL has a long history of excellence and leadership in these various disciplines and occupies a unique strategic position in quantum science and engineering, both in Switzerland and worldwide.”

Prof. Savona, whose expertise spans quantum optics, open quantum systems and quantum information, will be the QSE Center’s first director. He will be assisted by a management team composed of professors from EPFL’s School of Basic Sciences, School of Engineering and School of Computer and Communication Sciences.

Major technological advancements

“Thanks to recent progress in science and engineering, we can now use phenomena described by the laws of quantum mechanics to develop revolutionary new technology for computing; communications; and measurement,” says Prof. Savona. “This will lead to major advancements in several fields and bring significant benefits to society.”

By setting up the QSE Center, EPFL aims to coordinate efforts across the board to develop and implement quantum technology in applications that span all disciplines of science and engineering.

What sets the Center apart is its cross-disciplinary approach. Prof. Savona explains: “Quantum technology is highly complex and requires pulling together methods from many scientific fields. The unique feature and key strength of the QSE Center is our ability to bring together experts from different fields – already represented here at EPFL – to apply their knowledge to quantum science and engineering.”

Two main research areas

Research at the QSE Center will focus on two main areas. The first is quantum computing. “Our goal here will be to develop and implement quantum algorithms [see box] as well as the computer programs needed to use them,” says Prof. Savona. “Developing, implementing and integrating these tools will eventually lead to a quantum advantage [see box] in all applications requiring a high level of computing power. These applications could include simulating biological molecules to predict disease and develop new drugs, for example, or running simulations of weather and climate change over extended time horizons. Quantum advantage would also benefit much of the research done here at EPFL, such as in physics, chemistry, materials science, engineering, life science, computer science and data science.”

The second research area will involve studying integrated hybrid and scalable systems using EPFL’s advanced nano-fabrication facilities. This will pave the way to technological advancements in quantum hardware, quantum sensing and quantum communications.

A priority on education and research partnerships

The QSE Center will draw on the wide range of skills in quantum science and engineering already available in Switzerland. For instance, it intends to work closely with the University of Geneva through joint R&D projects and jointly hold classes for Master’s and PhD students.

Also with regards to education, the Center will introduce a new Master’s program in quantum science and engineering at EPFL. This will be a unique, cross-disciplinary program with classes in theoretical physics, computer science and engineering. “We will also offer excellence fellowships for Master’s students in order to attract talented young minds from Switzerland and abroad,” says Prof. Savona. “This will enable us to lay the foundation for the next generation of quantum scientists and engineers.”

In addition, the QSE Center will promote research and innovation by holding events such as workshops, conferences, and programs on specific topics, bringing selected experts to EPFL for long-term stays. These events will foster interaction and collaboration and stimulate creative thinking and progress.

“Current and future breakthroughs in quantum technology mark major turning points in the history of humanity,” says Prof. Savona. “We’re in a pioneering era that’s similar to the emergence of computers in the 1950s and the advent of the internet in the 1990s. This is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to contribute to the progress and advancement of our society.”

Quantum technology
All technology, from the wheel to the computer chip, is based on the laws of physics. But when a technology takes advantage of unconventional phenomena (i.e., events that don’t usually occur in our daily lives but instead must be produced through lab experiments) that follow the laws of quantum physics, such as quantum superposition and quantum entanglement, then it’s considered a quantum technology. Physicists in the late 20th century discovered that unconventional phenomena can be used to develop applications that are radically more efficient than existing ones. Today, quantum scientists and engineers are studying ways to create such applications for the benefit of society as a whole. Applied research in quantum engineering has already resulted in many applications, such as cryptographic protocols that use quantum key distribution for enhanced security in data transfer, quantum sensing systems that improve the precision of numerous types of measurement methods – such as the detection of magnetic fields in the brain – and the low-dimensional materials used in modern electronics.
Quantum algorithms
Quantum algorithms are the programs run on quantum computers. A specific algorithm must be written for each problem to be solved on a quantum computer. Learning the coding language used for these algorithms requires advanced skills in computer science, but also in math and physics.

Quantum advantage
A quantum advantage is the advantage that quantum computers have in solving the extremely large, complicated problems that even the most powerful supercomputers will never be able to handle. This advantage also relates to the enhanced capabilities that quantum technology can deliver in other applications, such as to develop more secure communications and take more precise measurements.


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The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne [EPFL-École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne] (CH) is a research institute and university in Lausanne, Switzerland, that specializes in natural sciences and engineering. It is one of the two Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology, and it has three main missions: education, research and technology transfer.

The QS World University Rankings ranks EPFL(CH) 14th in the world across all fields in their 2020/2021 ranking, whereas Times Higher Education World University Rankings ranks EPFL(CH) as the world’s 19th best school for Engineering and Technology in 2020.

EPFL(CH) is located in the French-speaking part of Switzerland; the sister institution in the German-speaking part of Switzerland is the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ETH Zürich [Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich)](CH) . Associated with several specialized research institutes, the two universities form the Domain of the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology (ETH Domain) [ETH-Bereich; Domaine des Écoles polytechniques fédérales] (CH) which is directly dependent on the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research. In connection with research and teaching activities, EPFL(CH) operates a nuclear reactor CROCUS; a Tokamak Fusion reactor; a Blue Gene/Q Supercomputer; and P3 bio-hazard facilities.

ETH Zürich, EPFL (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne) [École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne](CH), and four associated research institutes form the Domain of the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology (ETH Domain) [ETH-Bereich; Domaine des Écoles polytechniques fédérales] (CH) with the aim of collaborating on scientific projects.

The roots of modern-day EPFL(CH) can be traced back to the foundation of a private school under the name École spéciale de Lausanne in 1853 at the initiative of Lois Rivier, a graduate of the École Centrale Paris (FR) and John Gay the then professor and rector of the Académie de Lausanne. At its inception it had only 11 students and the offices was located at Rue du Valentin in Lausanne. In 1869, it became the technical department of the public Académie de Lausanne. When the Académie was reorganised and acquired the status of a university in 1890, the technical faculty changed its name to École d’ingénieurs de l’Université de Lausanne. In 1946, it was renamed the École polytechnique de l’Université de Lausanne (EPUL). In 1969, the EPUL was separated from the rest of the University of Lausanne and became a federal institute under its current name. EPFL(CH), like ETH Zürich(CH), is thus directly controlled by the Swiss federal government. In contrast, all other universities in Switzerland are controlled by their respective cantonal governments. Following the nomination of Patrick Aebischer as president in 2000, EPFL(CH) has started to develop into the field of life sciences. It absorbed the Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research (ISREC) in 2008.

In 1946, there were 360 students. In 1969, EPFL(CH) had 1,400 students and 55 professors. In the past two decades the university has grown rapidly and as of 2012 roughly 14,000 people study or work on campus, about 9,300 of these being Bachelor, Master or PhD students. The environment at modern day EPFL(CH) is highly international with the school attracting students and researchers from all over the world. More than 125 countries are represented on the campus and the university has two official languages, French and English.


EPFL is organised into eight schools, themselves formed of institutes that group research units (laboratories or chairs) around common themes:

School of Basic Sciences (SB, Jan S. Hesthaven)

Institute of Mathematics (MATH, Victor Panaretos)
Institute of Chemical Sciences and Engineering (ISIC, Emsley Lyndon)
Institute of Physics (IPHYS, Harald Brune)
European Centre of Atomic and Molecular Computations (CECAM, Ignacio Pagonabarraga Mora)
Bernoulli Center (CIB, Nicolas Monod)
Biomedical Imaging Research Center (CIBM, Rolf Gruetter)
Interdisciplinary Center for Electron Microscopy (CIME, Cécile Hébert)
Max Planck-EPFL Centre for Molecular Nanosciences and Technology (CMNT, Thomas Rizzo)
Swiss Plasma Center (SPC, Ambrogio Fasoli)
Laboratory of Astrophysics (LASTRO, Jean-Paul Kneib)

School of Engineering (STI, Ali Sayed)

Institute of Electrical Engineering (IEL, Giovanni De Micheli)
Institute of Mechanical Engineering (IGM, Thomas Gmür)
Institute of Materials (IMX, Michaud Véronique)
Institute of Microengineering (IMT, Olivier Martin)
Institute of Bioengineering (IBI, Matthias Lütolf)

School of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering (ENAC, Claudia R. Binder)

Institute of Architecture (IA, Luca Ortelli)
Civil Engineering Institute (IIC, Eugen Brühwiler)
Institute of Urban and Regional Sciences (INTER, Philippe Thalmann)
Environmental Engineering Institute (IIE, David Andrew Barry)

School of Computer and Communication Sciences (IC, James Larus)

Algorithms & Theoretical Computer Science
Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning
Computational Biology
Computer Architecture & Integrated Systems
Data Management & Information Retrieval
Graphics & Vision
Human-Computer Interaction
Information & Communication Theory
Programming Languages & Formal Methods
Security & Cryptography
Signal & Image Processing

School of Life Sciences (SV, Gisou van der Goot)

Bachelor-Master Teaching Section in Life Sciences and Technologies (SSV)
Brain Mind Institute (BMI, Carmen Sandi)
Institute of Bioengineering (IBI, Melody Swartz)
Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research (ISREC, Douglas Hanahan)
Global Health Institute (GHI, Bruno Lemaitre)
Ten Technology Platforms & Core Facilities (PTECH)
Center for Phenogenomics (CPG)
NCCR Synaptic Bases of Mental Diseases (NCCR-SYNAPSY)

College of Management of Technology (CDM)

Swiss Finance Institute at EPFL (CDM-SFI, Damir Filipovic)
Section of Management of Technology and Entrepreneurship (CDM-PMTE, Daniel Kuhn)
Institute of Technology and Public Policy (CDM-ITPP, Matthias Finger)
Institute of Management of Technology and Entrepreneurship (CDM-MTEI, Ralf Seifert)
Section of Financial Engineering (CDM-IF, Julien Hugonnier)

College of Humanities (CDH, Thomas David)

Human and social sciences teaching program (CDH-SHS, Thomas David)

EPFL Middle East (EME, Dr. Franco Vigliotti)[62]

Section of Energy Management and Sustainability (MES, Prof. Maher Kayal)

In addition to the eight schools there are seven closely related institutions

Swiss Cancer Centre
Center for Biomedical Imaging (CIBM)
Centre for Advanced Modelling Science (CADMOS)
École cantonale d’art de Lausanne (ECAL)
Campus Biotech
Wyss Center for Bio- and Neuro-engineering
Swiss National Supercomputing Centre