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Wits leads Quantum Computing National Working Group

- Wits University

“Investment in quantum technologies in South Africa is crucial if we want to leverage the next level of discovery research,” says Professor Zeblon Vilakazi.

Vilakazi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Postgraduate Affairs at Wits University, will be chairing the Department of Science and Innovation’s (DSI) National Working Committee to develop a Framework for Quantum Computing and Quantum Technology (NWG: QC&QT) driven research and innovation in South Africa.

Vilakazi, who was instrumental in Wits becoming the first African partner on the IBM Q Network earlier this year, together with the Director: Research Development at Wits, Dr Robin Drennan, form part of the NWG: QC&QT that also comprise of representatives from various higher education and research institutions in South Africa, as well as from IBM Research – Africa. 

Says Vilakazi: “Countries such as the US, China, from the European Union, Singapore, Japan and many others have invested billions in the development of quantum computing and associated technologies. Quantum computing technologies are the next accelerated technologies that will spawn new research, new technologies, and new industry almost at the same scale as the rapid technological advances of the past 20 years.

Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, DVC: Research & Postgraduate Affairs, and Chair of the Department of Science and Innovation’s (DSI) National Working Committee to develop a Framework for Quantum Computing and Quantum Technology (NWG: QC&QT)  

It is most appropriate that the DSI are putting together a team of leading scientists and researchers to advise on South Africa's responsiveness to this fast-developing technology. 

According to the DSI, at the core of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (41R) is the emergence of cyber-physical systems, which are based upon the ability to collect massive amounts of data, manipulate and analyse it efficiently, and transfer it fast and securely. Quantum technologies have the potential to realise this vision. 

The initial focus of the NWG: QC&QT will be as follows: 

  • To determine what the current state of QC and QT in SA is. The NWG will address the current landscape of QC and QT, identify challenges and opportunities, leverage and collaborate with existing initiatives, and engage the quantum community at large; 
  • To conduct a SWOT Analysis of QC and QT in SA, in terms of (a) human capital and research capacity development, (b) technology capacity and capability development, (c) availability and need for research and innovation infrastructure, (d) partnerships and networks, (e) collaborative platforms and {f) institutional landscape; and 
  • Based on the outcomes of the SWOT Analysis and scoping of the institutional landscape, the NWG: QC&QT will (i) scope where the path to the future lies as it pertains to QC and QT; (ii) identify priority areas for SA to focus on in the next ten years in order to align with the DSl's Decadal Plan (currently under development), (iii) set indicative targets for HCD; research, technology and innovation (RTI) investment; RTI infrastructure requirements, (iv) identify potential African and international partners to accelerate and strengthen the Qc and QT RTI capacities and capabilities in SA; and (v) clearly articulate synergies and alignment with the DSl's Converging Technology Platform initiative with special reference to the creation of relevant instrument/s and the establishment of an appropriate platform/s for this endeavour. 

Vilakazi says the actual Secretariat support for the NWG: QC&QT will be provided by Wits University that already has expertise in this field. “One of the world-leading experts in quantum technologies and lasers, Distinguished Professor Andrew Forbes from the Structured Light group in the Wits School of Physics is one of the key members of the team. Quantum computing researchers from the Universities of KwaZulu-Natal, Stellenbosch and Pretoria, and other universities are also involved.” 

“One of the key challenges in our current economic climate will be around the resources and how to liberate the necessary resources and focus on how this key, strategic investment ought to be made by prioritising certain areas and consolidating where possible,” says Vilakazi. 

It is a sense of pride for Wits that is right at the centre of this fast-evolving project which we hope, by the end of March next year, will yield something that will shape the way government and other universities think around the quantum technologies.” 

In December 2019 Wits University presented its first Quantum Computing Summer School (#WitsQ), followed by IBM Q’s Quiskit Camp in South Africa.

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