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.
In January, we examine how the cryosphere - ice sheets, glaciers, sea ice and other frozen parts of the planet - is changing and what this means for our planet. Earth’s cryosphere reflects the sun’s heat, regulating climate. But as the cryosphere melts, sea levels are rising and there are other impacts too – such as glacier collapse, which can generate massive avalanches. We speak to glacier expert Professor Andreas Kääb about the current state of the planet’s ice and snow and how better satellite measurements can help us understand the impacts of melting. We look at Earth’s so-called 'third pole’ of the Tibetan plateau and how ice melt will affect the millions who live in the mountains and those who depend on its run-off for water. We look at a project drilling in the Antarctic for what could be the world’s oldest ice (1.5 million years old) to see what it can reveal about climate history. And we speak to sea ice scientist Polona Itkin to get a glimpse into a day in her life aboard German icebreaker Polarstern, currently carrying out the largest Arctic expedition in history.
Seven years after scientists successfully managed to adapt a gene editing system used by bacteria into one that can be easily used in labs to edit human genes, we take a look at some of the emerging applications and ethical issues of CRISPR-Cas9. We talk to the head of the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies about whether the simplicity and low cost of CRISPR means that there is potential for misuse and what should be done about this. We find out how scientists have used CRISPR to create cows lacking two sugars that trigger the human immune system, leading to hopes of longer-lasting heart valves for transplant patients and healthier red meat. And we speak to researchers who are using CRISPR to improve other gene editing technologies.
Sea ice researcher Dr Polona Itkin of UiT The Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø is currently aboard a research vessel spending one year trapped in Arctic sea ice to study climate change up close. On 20 January she spoke to Horizon from the ship, Polarstern, about working through the polar night, the shortcomings of satellite data and fending off polar bears.
Each year, more than a million wildebeest migrate across the grassy plains of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania into Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve. But on the borders of these protected areas, human populations are increasing and wild ecosystems are struggling to survive in the face of development. Understanding these pressures is crucial for protecting people and wildlife, and to curb illegal activities such as poaching.
Sea ice researcher Dr Polona Itkin spoke to Horizon about life aboard a research vessel drifting in the Arctic.
Researchers aim for new ways to reduce tensions and poaching.