The so-called second quantum revolution is in full swing, with scientists not only able to understand what happens at a sub-atomic level but also control this quantum behaviour enough to develop new technologies. Six months after the launch of the EU’s €1 billion quantum flagship initiative to kickstart a European quantum technologies industry, we take a look at the potential of quantum to revolutionise our future. We speak to one researcher who is helping to build a quantum computer about the global race to do this and how Europe is faring. We take a look at the threat and promise of quantum technologies in the field of cryptography and find out how quantum simulators can be used to solve non-quantum problems. And finally, we speak to the scientists who are using quantum mechanics to improve the performance of brain scanners and better diagnose medical conditions.
When you hear the word ‘quantum’, you may imagine physicists working on a new ground breaking theory. Or perhaps you’ve read about quantum computers and how they might change the world. But one lesser-known field is also starting to reap the benefits of the quantum realm – medicine.
A powerful new form of computing could help scientists design new types of materials for nanoelectronics, allow airlines to solve complex logistical problems to ensure flights run on time, and tackle traffic jams to keep cars flowing more freely on busy roads.
Quantum computers pose a big threat to the security of modern communications, deciphering cryptographic codes that would take regular computers forever to crack. But drawing on the properties of quantum behaviour could also provide a route to truly secure cryptography.
European scientists have spent 100 years developing the field of quantum mechanics – a branch of physics dealing with the atomic and subatomic scale – and we need to reap the profits now that quantum computers and other technologies are becoming a reality, according to Dr Thomas Monz from the University of Innsbruck, Austria.
On December 17th, the European Space Agency’s CHEOPS telescope will blast into space to take a closer look at some of the potentially habitable planets we’ve found beyond our solar system. Ahead of its launch, Horizon takes an in-depth look at what we already know about such exoplanets and what’s still to learn. We speak to Dr Michaël Gillon, who in 2017 was instrumental in discovering a system of seven Earth-like planets outside our solar system, about the diversity of the thousands of exoplanets we’ve found so far and next steps for research. We talk to scientists who are trying to understand the structure of Super-Earths – planets up to 10 times the size of Earth – by recreating elements of planetary cores in their labs, and others who are trying to understand how different planetary systems formed in the first place. Finally, we delve into one of the most important conditions for life to exist on exoplanets – their atmospheres – and find out how scientists are trying detect the biosignature gases that indicate the presence of life.
All over the world, bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics, making infections more difficult – and in some cases impossible – to treat. It’s one of today’s biggest public health challenges and this month Horizon examines how scientists are working to overcome this growing issue. We speak to microbiologist Dr Nassos Typas about how we got here, what causes resistance to antibiotics and the different approaches being explored to combat resistance. We look at renewed efforts to find new antibiotics and ask whether it’s possible to reverse antibiotic resistance. And with dairy being a huge food source and also an antibiotic-intensive industry, we speak to scientists who are developing alternative therapies for treating cows for mastitis as a way of curbing antibiotics from coursing through our food chain.
Europe changed dramatically during the Bronze Age, with huge population shifts generally ascribed to the rise of new metal technologies, trading and climate change. But scientists believe that there may have been another reason for this social upheaval – the plague, possibly transported by, or on the back of, newly domesticated horses.
Drugs that activate or block the body’s oxygen-sensing machinery to treat conditions such as anaemia in patients with chronic kidney disease and cancer are being made possible because we now understand the way that cells respond to oxygen deprivation, according to Sir Peter Ratcliffe, one of three winners of this year’s Nobel prize in physiology or medicine.
Newly domesticated horses may have increased the spread of disease.
Sir Peter Ratcliffe on why hypoxia matters.
Dr Michaël Gillon on what's next for exoplanet science.