Winners of the third competition in the International Research Agendas Programme
The International Centre for Theory of Quantum Technologies at the University of Gdańsk
The second quantum revolution is approaching by leaps and bounds. The first, which occurred in the 20th century, was the creation and development of quantum theories. It was demonstrated then that the laws governing the smallest particles, known as quantum mechanics, are entirely different from classical physics governing large objects. The first revolution enabled the creation of devices like quantum transistors and quantum lasers. The approaching second quantum revolution will mean the creation of devices whose operation exploits the strangest, most paradoxical aspects of the laws of quantum mechanics, phenomena classically unimaginable and indescribable. The Polish response to these challenges will be the International Centre for Theory of Quantum Technologies.
The International Centre for Theory of Quantum Technologies is a new research centre being established at the University of Gdańsk as part of the International Research Agendas programme of the Foundation for Polish Science. The founder and director of the centre is Prof. Marek Żukowski, and the cofounder and leader of the first research group working at the centre will be Prof. Paweł Horodecki.
Emerging quantum technologies will have a range of practical applications. Quantum mechanics make it possible to construct devices and protocols for processing information impossible to achieve using classical methods. These include, for example, failsafe systems for ensuring cybersecurity of data (e.g. quantum cryptography—unbreakable codes), supersensitive quantum sensors (with possible applications in chemistry, biology and medicine), atomic clocks, and quantum computers (with classically impossible programming and algorithms). In recent decades, European researchers, including Polish scientists, have achieved numerous important successes involving basic research on these technologies. But the commercialization of these results has lagged behind. Now this should change as the results of research on quantum technologies are recast into practical products. This is the aim of the EU’s Quantum Technology Flagship project, which launches in 2018. Implementation of the project is expected to last a decade and cost a billion euros.
According to Prof. Marek Żukowski, “Poland has huge scientific potential in the field of quantum mechanics. But to play a major role in the Flagship programme it will require new research institutions focusing on quantum technologies, with the appropriate funds at their disposal and capable of hiring the best international experts. The International Centre for Theory of Quantum Technologies will be such an institution.” The foreign partner for the new centre created by Prof. Żukowski and Prof. Paweł Horodecki will be the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information (IQOQI) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna.
What specific issues will be developed at the International Centre for Theory of Quantum Technologies in Gdańsk? The founders of the new centre mention such issues as “self-testing” quantum cryptography and absolutely secure cryptographic codes, generators of truly random numbers, a range of quantum communications protocols, as well as conceptual work on quantum computers and “logic gates.” In terms of quantum computers, the centre will be involved in both development of quantum programming (algorithms) and equipment architecture, i.e. physical systems implementing such algorithms. Quantum informatics is a young field where it is more important to develop new methods than to improve methods already applied. This is why, instead of seeking to confirm known hypotheses, the researchers want to propose new solutions, protocols and concepts. They will develop methods ‘on the wing’ and also combine seemingly unrelated methods from various sub-disciplines which no one has tried to connect before.
As the researchers point out, this is an excellent time for ambitious research initiatives of this type, as currently interest in quantum technologies is expressed by large commercial enterprises like IBM, Google and Microsoft. Thus this research may generate enormous commercial benefits in the near future.
Who are the founders?
Prof. Marek Żukowski is a quantum physicist and a graduate of the Faculty of Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry at the University of Gdańsk. He has been affiliated with that institution for his whole career (apart from earning his postdoctoral degree at Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń). He is the director of the Institute of Theoretical Physics and Astrophysics at the University of Gdańsk and an editor of the American journal Physical Review. He has served as a visiting professor at numerous foreign institutions, including the University of Innsbruck, Tsinghua University in Beijing, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and currently the University of Vienna. He is a member of the Scientific Council of the National Science Centre. He was the laureate of numerous FNP programmes such as MISTRZ, TEAM, and COPERNICUS. In 2013 he was awarded the Foundation for Polish Science Prize, considered the most prestigious scientific prize in the country. His best-known work is an article in Physical Review Letters (Żukowski et al., 1993) introducing the concept of “entanglement swapping” and the general operational methods needed to conduct quantum teleportation and construction of multiphoton entangled states. His other achievements include experimental exclusion of a broad class of non-local theories with hidden variables (Zeilinger et al., Nature, 2007) and suggestion of a new physical principle, “information causality” (Pawłowski et al., Nature, 2009).
Prof. Paweł Horodecki is a quantum physicist and a graduate of the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics at the University of Gdańsk. He earned his doctorate (with distinction) at the Gdańsk University of Technology and his postdoctoral degree at the University of Gdańsk. He currently works in the Department of Theoretical Physics and Quantum Information, Faculty of Applied Physics and Mathematics, Gdańsk University of Technology. He is a member of the Scientific Council of the Quantum Information Center, which he cofounded. He is one of the creators of the Peres–Horodecki criterion (1996), which enables a determination of whether a given quantum state is entangled (the article stating this result is the most often cited original scientific work ever published in the history of the University of Gdańsk). He is also one of the discoverers of “bound entanglement” (Physical Review Letters, 1998) and many fundamental laws of quantum information. He is a laureate of the START programme of the Foundation for Polish Science, the Rubinowicz team award of the Polish Physical Society, and several awards from the Minister of Science and Higher Education.
How acquired mutations in normal cells lead to cancer
Cancer may be regarded as a form of genetic disease. During the multi-stage process of appearance and growth of cancer, the genome is disrupted and undergoes numerous mutations. The great majority of these are genetic changes that are not inherited from our parents but are acquired over the course of our lifetime, for example as the result of the action of various factors such as smoking, poor diet, or certain viral infections. Prof. Jan Dumański from Uppsala University in Sweden and Prof. Arkadiusz Piotrowski from the Medical University of Gdańsk plan to open a new centre specializing in research on acquired genetic anomalies as risk factors for cancer and other illnesses. The centre will be established at the Medical University of Gdańsk as part of the International Research Agendas programme of the Foundation for Polish Science.
Although cancer may develop in humans in association with inborn genetic predispositions, such genetic cancers represent just a small percentage of all cancer cases. Modern science already knows quite a lot about inherited mutations creating a predisposition to the development of certain cancers, but much less is known about the far more commonly occurring genetic aberrations acquired over the human life cycle, also resulting in cancer.
Changes in the genome occurring during the course of one’s lifetime are referred to as postzygotic mutations (PZMs). They include a wide range of mutations, from changes in a single nucleotide, through structural rearrangements in chromosomes, to aberrations of entire chromosomes. PZMs are so frequent and universal that across the entire organism there are probably no two cells that are genetically identical. It is due to PZMs that even identical twins, developing out of a single zygote, are not exact genetic copies of each other. According to Prof. Jan Dumański, “Postzygotic mutations are known as a by-product of the aging of normal cells, but can also be a risk factor for cancer and other illnesses. An example of such postzygotic aberrations is the atrophy of the Y chromosome in men’s leukocytes. We already know that this abnormality increases the odds of cancer as well as Alzheimer’s. The main aim of our proposed research programme is to develop a genetic and functional profile of these mutations and to attempt to apply this in preclinical diagnosis of cancerous conditions—before the first symptoms of cancer appear or before it is possible to confirm the existence of cancer through radiology. Because in the overwhelming majority of cases early detection of cancer is the key to the patient’s treatment outlook, our research could make a considerable contribution to reducing mortality among cancer patients.”
In the initial years of operation of the centre, researchers will examine primarily the role of PZMs in the development of breast cancer in women, prostate cancer in men, cancer of the colon and the bladder in both sexes, as well as Alzheimer’s in men connected with loss of the Y chromosome. They will attempt to identify the specific postzygotic mutations most relevant to susceptibility to these diseases. This will require collection of thousands of clinical samples especially for this purpose from patients with various types of cancers at various stages of advancement of the disease. The samples will be collected from malignant tumours, lymph nodes, remote metastases, tissues unaffected by a nearby primary tumour, and from blood and skin. All of the samples will be collected at the Central Bank of Tissue and Genetic Material at the Medical University of Gdańsk. Then, to determine the type, mechanism and frequency of occurrence of PZMs in the samples, the researchers will conduct a number of advanced genetic and molecular analyses. This research may lead to the discovery of new biomarkers for cancer risk. The new biomarkers can then be patented and become the basis for diagnostic tests as well as new therapies.
One of the most interesting research problems that will be analyzed at the new centre is the loss of the Y chromosome (LOY) occurring in men’s leukocytes and contributing to the development of numerous diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer’s and atherosclerosis. This phenomenon may explain why, on average, men do not live as long as women. As Prof. Dumański said, “We want to determine how LOY in leukocytes affects disease processes in other organs. According to the most persuasive hypothesis explaining these connections, loss of the Y chromosome is tied to a defect in the immunological supervision of other cells by the immune system (including leukocytes). Healthy leukocytes eliminate all cells differing from normal cells, but after the loss of the Y chromosome this process becomes much less effective. If our research confirms this hypothesis, then analysis of LOY in the blood of men of an advanced age may become a new and clinically useful biomarker for several common illnesses.”
Who are the founders?
Prof. Jan Dumański is from Kraków, where he studied at the Medical Academy (now the Jagiellonian University Medical College) in 1979–1984. In 1985 he began scientific research at the clinical genetics unit at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm. He earned his doctorate there as well as the title of professor in the field of medical molecular genetics. Since 2000 he has worked at Uppsala University in Sweden in the Department of Immunology, Genetics and Pathology. He also served as a professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine (2006–2008), where he headed the Howell and Elizabeth Heflin Center for Human Genetics. He has participated in numerous international research projects involving the genetics of cancer, molecular bases for metastasis, and the mechanisms behind predispositions to cancer.
Prof. Arkadiusz Piotrowski is a graduate of the Intercollegiate Faculty of Biotechnology of the University of Gdańsk and the Medical University of Gdańsk (GUMed). He earned a doctorate in pharmacy in 2002 at the Faculty of Pharmacy and Department of Laboratory Medicine at GUMed. Following his doctorate he worked at the Department of Immunology, Genetics and Pathology at Uppsala University in Sweden (2003–2006) and at the Department of Genetics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine (2006–2008). He continues to be affiliated with UAB as an adjunct professor and also carries out international research projects (including a grant from the US Department of Defense). Since 2017 he has served as prorector for research at the Faculty of Pharmacy and Department of Laboratory Medicine at GUMed. He has been the beneficiary of two other Foundation of Polish Science programmes: FOCUS and MENTORING. His principal field of research is somatic mosaicism and structural rearrangements of the genome in the context of cancers and rare genetic diseases.
Quantum optical technologies in Warsaw
Countries investing today in research on quantum technologies may be in a position to reap enormous social and economic gains within the next decade or so, market analysts predict. Meanwhile, physicists, computer scientists and engineers are working intensively on translating the groundbreaking discoveries made in recent decades in the field of quantum mechanics into practical solutions and products used in everyday life. This is the goal set for the EU’s major programme Quantum Technology Flagship, launching soon. Also fitting into this global trend will be the new research centre established at the University of Warsaw by Prof. Konrad Banaszek, a winner in the International Research Agendas programme of the Foundation for Polish Science. The new centre will focus on quantum optical technologies. The centre’s strategic partner will be the University of Oxford.
The research agenda created by Prof. Banaszek proposes to take a very attractive look at quantum physics from the perspective of new technologies. The overriding intention is to conduct complex research on optical systems at the quantum level with the aim of developing entirely new methods of communication, detection, metrology, imaging, and other practical applications. The concept of “optical systems” is understood broadly and includes physical systems which can be prepared, manipulated and measured using light. Such systems include for example atoms, particles, solids, and optomechanical systems, and the range of their potential implementations is very wide.
According to Prof. Banaszek, “In conventional approaches, all the essential parameters used have a well-defined macroscopic meaning. In a quantum description, however, the central role is played by quantum states, which contain the complete characteristic of the described physical objects but are not directly accessible. Analysis of traditional methods based on quantum mechanics indicates their bounds of possibility. In many optical technologies, they are known as limitations connected with ‘shot noise’ resulting from the quantum nature of light, whose elementary ‘grains’ are photons. For example, in traditional methods of imaging and microscopy shot noise sets this theoretical limit of precision of the image and limits the possibility for increasing the resolution beyond the boundaries of diffraction. In optical communications, the probability of occurrence of an error for standard systems of coding is defined by the available signal strength. But taking into account the strategies permitted by quantum mechanics, it turns out that the optimal results capable of achievement using the protocols under consideration are much better than would follow from these limitations. The main cause lies in the possibility of preparing, manipulating and detecting quantum systems in a manner exceeding conventional methods based solely on macroscopic dimensions.”
An example of an application of quantum mechanics is innovative measuring methods with capacity and sensitivity unachievable by traditional methods. In the future, quantum sensors may be used for example in geological research (as they provide very precise measures of gradients of a gravitational field) or for monitoring the environment (as they detect trace quantities of chemical substances). Meanwhile, magnetometry using coherently controlled quantum systems, such as colour centres in diamond, could radically simplify medical diagnostics, e.g. based on methods of magnetic resonance. Technologies for quantum communications can at least partially solve the problem of cybersecurity and identity theft on the internet. And advanced methods for illuminating samples and imaging, using quantum effects, can open up entirely new horizons in biomedical research. As Prof. Banaszek stresses, these are just a few practical examples of implementations of quantum engineering, and many more await discovery.
Who is the founder?
Prof. Konrad Banaszek is a physicist affiliated for many years with the Faculty of Physics at the University of Warsaw. After obtaining his doctorate there in 2000, he held foreign fellowships at the University of Rochester in the US and at Oxford. He is the author or co-author of over a hundred scientific articles across the field of quantum technologies. In the last decade he has coordinated three projects funded by the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme and has twice been a laureate of the TEAM programme of the Foundation for Polish Science. Currently, apart from his research work at the University of Warsaw (where he heads the Quantum Technologies Laboratory at the Centre of New Technologies), he is the scientific coordinator of the European initiative QuantERA involving 32 grant agencies from 26 countries chaired by Poland’s National Science Centre.