Finland's Quantum Leap

Finland's quantum scene is buzzing. The country's ecosystem and long history in low-temperature research have made it a European forerunner in the race for quantum supremacy.

Countries around the world are competing for leadership in quantum sciences and technologies, and many have already forged some form of national quantum strategy. While the United States remains the quantum leader by many indicators, its position is being challenged by China and the EU, whose governments are strongly supporting their initiatives.

Finland is among the European countries investing the most in quantum. A report(layout.types.url.description) on Europe's quantum computing capabilites also showed that Finland punches above its weight in foreign investments, which suggests that the country is better equipped to benefit from emerging quantum technologies than many other European nations.

The 17 countries that currently have a national quantum initiative or strategy are mostly concerned with the translation of research into applications, but also with educating the general population and addressing the ethical and social aspects of the quantum revolution. While Finland does not yet have an official strategy, the Finnish Quantum Institute(layout.types.url.description) (InstituteQ) has laid out a Finnish Quantum Agenda to serve as the basis of one.

One of Finland’s national goals is to build a 50-qubit quantum system by 2024. A first step towards this goal was a €20.7 million government grant in 2020 to the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and IQM, a Finnish quantum computing company, to build the country's first quantum computer in Otaniemi, Espoo. The 5-qubit system called HELMI connects to a traditional supercomputer, the pan-European LUMI, making Finland one of the few countries to possess a hybrid high-performance computer.

Most quantum-investing countries not only compete, but also work with foreign partners to secure their supply chains and access to knowledge and facilities. In April, 2022, the United States and Finland signed a Joint Statement on Cooperation in Quantum Information Science and Technology(layout.types.url.description) in which the two parties intend to cooperate and promote QIST in its different forms. On the state level, Finland has signed agreements with Colorado and Texas to promote the advancement of quantum technology.

VTT Research Manager Pekka Pursula presenting a Bluefors dilution refrigeration system. Photo: Juulia Heikkinen / Embassy of Finland

A Low-Temperature Edge

“The excellence of the Finnish quantum ecosystem builds on over 50 years of background in quantum physics research, device development and engineering,” explains Pekka Pursula, VTT Technical Research Centre’s Research Manager in microelectronics and quantum computing.

Pursula says that Finland has excellent infrastructure for developing superconducting quantum systems and devices. The country also provides a great innovation ecosystem for companies, RTO’s (Research and Technology Organisations) and universities to develop quantum solutions.

According to Pursula, Finns believe that a hybrid approach will bear the first benefits of quantum computing. When quantum computer HELMI was connected to supercomputer LUMI, the latter became the fastest supercomputer with quantum resources in the world.

Finland’s long tradition in low-temperature physics research, which stems back to a low-temperature laboratory established at Aalto University in 1965, has allowed the country to accumulate the know-how and infrastructure to develop quantum technology.

Physicist Olli Lounasmaa, a pioneer in the field, led the international research center and developed refrigeration techniques that would later become the norm in cryogenics. Bluefors, a maker of cryogenic devices called dilution refrigerators, was one of several projects that spun off that research, and the company is now a market leader in its field.

For now, many of the quantum boom's advancements may not resonate with the general population. While quantum technologies such as lasers are already prevalent in today’s society, Pursula believes that new materials and medicines are areas where a layperson would begin to notice the new technology.

Kim Haldin / Embassy of Finland

Timeline

2022
Supercomputer LUMI connected to HELMI, making LUMI the most powerful quantum-enabled supercomputing infrastructure in the world

 

2022
National quantum agenda process kicks off

 

2021
VTT and IQM announce Finland’s first operational 5-qubit quantum computer HELMI

 

2021
Announcement of the Finnish Quantum Institute, Institute Q

 

2020
Government grants €20.7 million to VTT and co-innovation partner IQM to build Finland’s first quantum computer