In July, the University of Science and Technology of China announced that it had surpassed Google’s supposed achievement of quantum supremacy. China’s ambitious quantum computing efforts are overseen by one man, Jian-Wei Pan.
15 December 2021
GOVERNMENTS and businesses around the world are racing to build a useful quantum computer, and the stakes are as high as R&D budgets. Such a machine could crack encryption wide open, increase the power of artificial intelligence, and help develop unique materials and medicines.
A big player in the field is China, which has an extremely well-funded, centralized government project that sucks in talent, all under the watchful eye of one man: Jian-Wei Pan.
The same words come up repeatedly when you talk about Pan with those who know him: reserved, focused, driven, and brilliant. He is often referred to as the “father of quantum”.
He attended the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) in 1987 and then the University of Vienna in Austria for his Ph.D., eventually returning to USTC to lead one of the largest and most successful quantum research groups in the world. . In Vienna, she worked with the noted physicist anton zeilingerwho later said, “I cannot imagine the rise of quantum technology without Jian-Wei Pan.”
Gregor Weihs at the University of Innsbruck, also in Austria, he worked with Pan in Vienna and remembers his time there. “Initially he had no experimental experience, but it was obvious that he understood quantum physics better than any of us and had amazingly creative ideas,” he says.
“I was certainly driven and motivated to build bigger things,” he says. Thomas Jennewein at the University of Waterloo in Canada, who also worked with Pan in Vienna and helped him establish a new quantum research laboratory at USTC in 2002.
After returning to China, Pan had a meteoric rise. He was elected to the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2011, its youngest member, and to the World Academy of Sciences the following year. He became vice president of the USTC in 2014.
Pan’s work has yielded great results (he has been cited in almost 50,000 other scientific articles) and, in turn, has generated a great deal of government investment. A quantum lab that opened at USTC in 2020 cost $10 billion. Such support has paid off big lately.
Tech giants and research teams around the world have been in a race to outdo each other when it comes to quantum supremacy, the point at which a quantum computer can solve a problem that is impossible for classical computers. . In July 2021, USTC announced that it had surpassed the achievement of quantum supremacy claimed by Google solving a problem three orders of magnitude harder than the one done by Google’s Sycamore machine. In September, the USTC surpassed its own benchmark by another three orders of magnitude.
The USTC is also making great strides in quantum communication. It recently revealed that the world’s largest metropolitan quantum network, involving banks, universities and government buildings in the city of Hefei in China, has been running for almost three years. In 2016, the USTC launched the first quantum satellite into orbit, demonstrating tamper-proof communications with ground stations on Earth.
Pan’s influence on Chinese science is great and growing. He is the vice president of the Jiusan Society, a minor political party that serves as a kind of think tank on scientific and educational issues.
It remains to be seen which country or company will be the first to develop a practical quantum computer, but Pan and USTC are likely to remain at the center of this field for the foreseeable future.
2021 in review
This was a year of facing great challenges, from the covid-19 pandemic to climate change. But 2021 was also rich in scientific discoveries and breakthroughs.
More on these topics: