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National Quantum Computing Centre: The programme at the centre of the next tech revolution

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Quantum computers have the potential to tackle complex computations in new ways, beyond the capability even of today’s most powerful supercomputers. Although the technology is in its infancy, the UK’s National Quantum Computing Centre (NQCC) is leading the research and development that will bring it to the fore.Dr Michael Cuthbert, Director of the NQCC

As part of its Future Lives and Landscapes campaign, APM spoke with Dr Michael Cuthbert, Director of the NQCC (pictured), about the potential impacts of this revolutionary technology on project management and society as a whole.

The National Quantum Computing Centre is the UK's national lab for quantum computing. It works with businesses, government and academics to deliver quantum computing capabilities for the UK.

Quantum computing isn’t just an advancement of existing technology – it’s an entirely new way of computing altogether. Conventional digital computers solve problems linearly, one calculation at a time. Quantum computers harness the quantum mechanical properties of atoms, photons and electrons. The unique properties of these particles mean they can occupy simultaneous states and act as connected pairs, even when physically separated. When scaled to large numbers this quantum entanglement enables vast computational tasks to be undertaken currently not possible using conventional techniques.

The NQCC programme, funded through UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), in collaboration between the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Science and Technology Facilities Council, was launched in June 2020. It has a clear vision: enable the UK to solve some of the most complex and challenging problems facing society by harnessing the potential of quantum computing. To realise this vision, the NQCC is focusing on three key areas: technology development, quantum readiness, and establishing state-of-the-art quantum computing infrastructure. It is now approaching a significant milestone with the opening its new facility at the renowned Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire. The new site will serve as a research laboratory, development hub and collaboration space. The building handover is now complete and the facility will be fully open and operational by the autumn of 2024.

Like many projects and programmes, the NQCC was impacted by the many disruptive events taking place from 2018 onwards, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the impacts of Brexit. This affected everything from supply chain to hiring practices. By using agile working practices and an adaptable mindset, the impact on the timeline has been limited to only six months, despite the remit of the programme growing significantly.

Dr Michael Cuthbert, Director of the NQCC, said: “Adaptability has been important throughout. You can do all the planning you like, but if it’s not a plan you have the resources to maintain, it becomes academic.

“There are times when we’ve had to pause, rethink and redesign processes. But ultimately, that has proved effective. Being open to reflection and being willing and able to adapt as new information becomes available has been something we’ve strived to do.”

Supporting ‘quantum readiness’

NQCC Superconding QC LaboratoryNQCC has committed £30 million of funding to seven test projects for quantum computing platforms. But developing the hardware is only one part of a bigger picture. Industry engagement is another priority. The NQCC has been working with the business community to prepare use cases for how the technology can be introduced, applied and sustained in the real world.

Dr Cuthbert explained: “If we had a functioning quantum computer tomorrow, who could use it? Do we have the coding skills and the algorithm skills? It’s not just about having the capabilities to build it…How do you grow the ecosystem and user base for quantum computers as well as the technology?

“We have a user engagement programme called SparQ that is creating greater awareness of quantum computing in industry. We provide education, research, knowledge workshops and webinars as well as access to cloud services and technical support. Interested users can get their hands on a quantum computer and be supported to use it, through a variety of different training courses.

“The final piece is how we bring people together to create and learn from each other. For example, we held a workshop recently at the Royal Society that explored the impact of quantum computing on pharmaceuticals and life sciences. We also run an annual quantum hackathon where we bring together students, researchers and enthusiasts to give them access to a variety of quantum computing platforms.

“All of this supports quantum readiness.”

Impacts on the project profession

The potential uses for quantum computing are vast. While the emergence of personal quantum devices for individual use is unlikely, quantum computers are already being tested in the financial service and advanced manufacturing sectors. Dr Cuthbert also predicts uses in healthcare, logistics and the automotive industry. Detecting patterns in large data sets could lead to breakthroughs in chemistry that unlocks new battery technology for electric cars, for example.

Within these sectors, quantum computing is likely to impact the way projects, programmes and portfolios are managed over time.

“I’m sure there will be roles for project professionals in industries where quantum computers are used.

“Project management of IT infrastructure is notoriously difficult. Where there are projects like implementation of a central system, businesses will have to think about how they introduce not just traditional IT infrastructure but high-capacity quantum computer servers. Introducing that kind of emerging technology is non-trivial.

“In the long term, quantum computing will improve forecasting, optimise processes, and increase data flow or parts flow.

“I think we’re perhaps five years away from business adoption, then perhaps a decade or more for it to become a mainstream tool, the way high performance computers are today.”

Societal benefits of quantum computing

While Dr Cuthbert is cautious about overhyping the technology, he is in no doubt that the changes brought about by quantum computing over time will bring significant benefits to society. In his opinion, this will mostly be from the technology fuelling long term scientific advancement.

Uses may include new ways of modelling how individuals metabolise medicine differently, leading to new ways of thinking around medication. Better image recognition will make MRI scans more effective. The modelling of protein-folding has implications for Alzheimer’s research.

Then of course there is the battle against climate change. Quantum computing could help to optimise energy flow across power networks, or optimise fuel use by aircraft and cars. New battery technologies (mentioned earlier) could lead to new generations of electric vehicles that are cleaner and more efficient.

Such outcomes are still some way off, but the pioneering programme of the NQCC is bringing them closer to reality.

For more information about the National Quantum Computing Centre, visit

Future Lives and Landscapes is raising awareness of the social value of projects by highlighting the many benefits they create for people and communities. You can discover more about the campaign here.


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