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The Future of Tech: Building Quantum Technology With Ion Beam Accelerators

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Novel quantum-based biosensors using diamond with nitrogen-vacancy centres are being developed through at 10-year project called Q-LEAP. These sensors could vastly improve the study of human brain functions, such as real-time detection of thoughts. (Image: Y. Yamazaki/National Institutes for Quantum and Radiological Science and Technology, Japan)

Authors: Aliz Simon and Nicole Jawerth*

Quantum technology is paving the way for smaller, faster and more flexible electronics than ever before, such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging scanners the size of smartphones and quantum computers that are thousands of times more powerful than traditional computers. Now on the brink of the second quantum revolution, which promises new ways to measure, process and transmit information, scientists are working on accelerator-based techniques for developing new materials that could speed up development of quantum technologies.

“The first quantum revolution was about building devices based on the ability to control photons and electrons, which led to the personal computer, LED lighting, even GPS and the Internet. In the second revolution, it’s about controlling the quantum state of individual atomic systems to create more advanced technology that is capable of solving previously impossible problems,” said David Jamieson, Professor at the University of Melbourne and chair of the IAEA coordinated research project behind this work: ‘Ion beam induced spatio-temporal structural evolution of materials: accelerators for a new technology era’.

The coordinated research project, launched in December 2016, has brought together leading scientists from Australia, China, Croatia, Finland, Italy, India, Israel, Singapore, Spain and the USA. The main aim of the project is to develop novel, accelerator-based ion beam techniques for creating and characterizing modified material required for new quantum technologies.

“Accelerator-based techniques involve high-energy ions that allow us to create atomic-scale modifications, or defects, in materials such as silicon and diamond, or two-dimensional materials, such as graphene. We can then control the quantum states of these individual atomic-scale defects in the materials, which in turn gives us the capability to control single atoms, including the spin of electrons or nuclei. The result is new materials with the characteristics necessary for advancing quantum technology,” said Jamieson.

Research has already shown ways these techniques can be used to modify materials. For example, single, accelerated ions can be implanted into materials, such as diamonds, used for semiconductors to form colour centres with quantum states that are useful for sensing electric and magnetic fields in single living cells. The colour centres can also release photons encoded with quantum states to, for example, transmit information that is secure against eavesdroppers. These materials can be integrated into conventional microelectronic devices such as laptops, smart watches and navigation devices.

The same techniques can also be used to investigate new types of radiation detectors based on diamond, such as radiation sensors that will be able to withstand high levels of radiation for use in radiotherapy treatment for cancer. In the longer term, they can also form the basis of a photonic quantum internet that connects a large-scale array of quantum information processors.

“New quantum technologies could open the door to transformational advances in secure communications, information technology and high precision sensors and provide new solutions to pressing challenges in fields such as medicine, industry, and security, shaping global development in the 21st century,” said Paolo Olivero, Associate Professor at the University of Torino in Italy and a participant in the project. “But there are still some major hurdles to address before many of these technologies become a reality.”

Last month, the project participants met to discuss fast-track solutions for addressing key challenges such as characterizing the behaviour of defects in certain systems, such as colour centres formed in diamond by implanted nitrogen atoms and an adjacent network of atom-sized vacancies, as well as how to control defect engineering in two-dimensional materials such as graphene when using low and medium-energy ions. Their meeting included discussions on testing and refining quantum theories with experimental data to tackle those problems and identify ways to translate theories into new devices.

The four-year project will also further facilitate research across the field by supporting other key research programmes around the world, such as the Quantum Technologies Flagship at the European Union, the National Innovation and Science Agenda in Australia and the National Quantum Initiative in the United States of America, among others. There will also be opportunities for scientific collaboration and training in conjunction with the project, such as the Joint ICTP-IAEA Advanced School on Ion Beam Driven Materials Engineering: Accelerators for a New Technology Era held last October.

The future is quantum

The first quantum revolution transformed the world into the highly connected, technology-driven society we see today. With the second revolution, we can soon expect ultra-high precision clocks, sensors for medical diagnostics, customized drug designs using quantum computers and more sophisticated machine learning.

It will also enable the development of quantum computers that are able to crack problems unsolvable with current methods. These computers use basic units of information called quantum bits or ‘qubits’, which are a more complex and powerful version of the information-carrying ‘bits’ used today in conventional computing.

Prototypes of 10 to 50 qubit computers are already accessible online and being used to develop quantum software for practical applications and for training the next generation of personnel in quantum information technology. Single qubits are also now being used in laboratories as sensors to exploit quantum superposition and entanglement for non-invasive diagnostics at the cellular level.

In anticipation of progress in the field of quantum technology, researchers are already setting up longer-term projects to harness the potential of these new developments, such as a new 10-year project called Q-LEAP to create novel quantum-based sensors for studying processes in the human brain. These sensors could vastly improve the detection of brain functions, such as real-time tracking of human thought, and improve the resolution of medical images. The project will use, among others, the accelerator-based techniques and expertise developed through this IAEA coordinated research project.

*Nicole Jawerth, IAEA Office of Public Information and Communication

IAEA

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Cybersecurity depends on the user

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Businesses and pharmaceutical companies have become prime targets for cyber criminals. For many employees switching to work from home has made them more vulnerable to cyber attacks. Amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic the focus is shifting on digital hygiene and training. These are top issues outlined by the participants of a round table which  took place at TASS Press Center under the title “Cybersecurity: new threats and protection against them”.

At present, a large number of high-tech medical equipment is connected to the Internet. Given that medical institutions are not used to new threats, they often fall prey to cyber criminals. At times, hospitals have to pay ransom in order to restart the equipment vital for patients’ lives.  The participants in the round table cited yet more tragic cases when the ambulance equipment glitch forced the driver to head for other hospitals, which means that patients in critical condition may not make it there.

Cyber threats have been haunting not only the  medical industry. President of Check Point Software Technologies in Russia and CIS Vasily Diaghilev has singled out 3 key challenges in the new reality. Firstly, the decision-taking time limit has shortened considerably, — the market proved unprepared for this (unlike in the past, when months were given to elaborate decisions on cyber security, now a mere days are given to do so). Secondly, the criminal groups which had to go online as well, were provided with new financing to “work” in the cyber sphere. Thirdly, user vulnerability went up due to a wide variety of hacking methods.

Alexei Novikov, Director of Security at Positive Technologies, disagrees with such a view. The transition to online work has increased the number of vulnerabilities making it possible for the criminals to find new loops. Hence cyber security has come to depend on the competence of particular individuals. Earlier, information security was guaranteed “along the perimeter of corporate network”. Now, when practically everyone is working from home, family members have got access to the data too. In  addition, employees often connect  their  personal “smart devices” of the  Internet of  things to their corporate networks.

Experts who took part in the round table provided specific recommendations as to how to boost digital security. Founder and General Director of Zecurion Alexei Raevsky warned companies which are not supposed to store loads of data against doing so. Alexei Raevsky described all the data (for example, for electronic passes), which they collect on a regular basis in the conditions of a quarantine, as a “time bomb”. Vasily Diaghilev has urged individuals to refrain from using (and called on companies to impose restrictions on this practice on a mandatory basis) corporate passwords on external servers, in addition, he recommended coding corporate data, and in order to secure protection against destructive files, he advises to switch to the safe pdf-format in paperwork. “Info security should enter mass market as a taxi – a kind of digital security outsourcing”, — Lev Matveev, Chairman of the Board of “SearchInfoorm”, member of the Association of Software Manufacturers “Russoft”, says. Besides, he recommended including VPN-apps and services into public (free) WiFi-networks.

From our partner International Affairs

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Top 10 Emerging Technologies to Watch in 2020

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From virtual patients to pain-free needles, synthesizing whole-genomes, and digital medicine, these top 10 emerging technologies are transforming our post-COVID-19 lives. An international steering group of experts singled out these and other emerging technologies as the ones most likely to impact the world in the next three to five years.

For example, a Swiss group was able to synthesize the entire COVID-19 genome by reproducing the genetic sequence uploaded by Chinese scientists. They were essentially teleporting the virus into their laboratory for study without waiting for physical samples. The ability to write our genome will inevitably help doctors to cure genetic diseases.

As we now move to clinical trials of a COVID-19 vaccine, virtual patients, instead of living humans, could help identify successful vaccine candidates, reduce costs, and speed up research. It would also prevent the testing of imperfect vaccine candidates on living volunteers.

While the outbreak unfolded, dozens of medical apps and bots were developed, expanding the digital medicine landscape. These apps could detect depression and provided counselling. Bots answered over 200 million inquiries about COVID symptoms and treatments. COVID-19 will continue to shape our lives, and these emerging technologies could fill the gaps created by the pandemic.

The list also includes new technologies that can help combat climate change by tackling major polluting industries. These new green technologies include innovative planes, new concrete formulations and using sunlight to power refineries.

Top 10 technologies to make the list are:

Virtual Patients

Virtual patients, instead of living humans, could make vaccine trials quicker and inexpensive. This technology would significantly reduce the number of human subjects needed for experimentation.

Microneedles for Painless Injections and Tests

These tiny needles promise pain-free injections and blood testing. Microneedles do not touch nerve endings. Since the process does not need costly equipment or a lot of training, they can be used in areas that do not normally receive cutting-edge medical technologies.

Whole-Genome Synthesis

Whole-genome synthesizing will transform cell engineering. The ability to write our genome will inevitably help doctors to cure genetic diseases.

Digital Medicine

Digital medicine is a collection of apps that detect and monitor the mental and physical health of patients. These apps and bots can enhance traditional medicine and provide support to patients with limited access to healthcare.

Electric Aviation

Electric propulsion motors would eliminate direct carbon emissions. This technology could also reduce fuel costs by up to 90%, maintenance by up to 50% and noise by nearly 70%. Currently, about 170 electric airplane projects are underway.

Lower-Carbon Cement

Concrete, the most widely used human-made material, shapes much of our built world. If cement production were a country, it would be the third-largest emitter after China and the US. Researchers are working on lower-carbon approaches by changing the recipe, using different materials, and using carbon capture and storage technologies.

Sun-Powered Chemistry

This approach uses sunlight to convert carbon dioxide waste into needed chemicals manufactured from fossil fuel. This approach could reduce emissions in two ways – by using unwanted gas as raw material and using sunlight as the source of energy instead of fossil fuels.

Green Hydrogen

Current methods of producing hydrogen are not environmentally efficient. Green hydrogen, produced through electrolysis, has no by-product, unlike current processes. Green hydrogen could transform industries that require high-energy fuel.

Spatial Computing

“Spatial computing” will bring together raise reality apps and sensors to facilitate human-machine and machine-machine interactions to a new level. It combines these capabilities and controls objects’ movements and interactions, allowing a person to navigate the digital and physical world.

Quantum Sensing

Quantum sensors enable autonomous vehicles that can “see” around corners, underwater navigation systems, early-warning systems for volcanic activity and earthquakes, and portable scanners that monitor a person’s brain activity during daily life.

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Can ‘Open Science’ speed up the search for a COVID-19 vaccine? 5 things you need to know

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The UN is calling for authoritative scientific information and research to be made freely available, to accelerate research into an effective vaccine against the COVID-19 virus, help counter misinformation, and “unlock the full potential of science”.

Arguing that no-one is safe until everyone is safe, the World Health Organization (WHO) has, for several months, been urging countries and scientists to collaborate, in a bid to bring the pandemic under control. This has involved the creation, alongside governments, scientists, foundations, the private sector and other partners, of a groundbreaking platform to accelerate the development of tests, treatments and vaccines.

In October, the head of the agency, Tedros Ghebreyesus Adhanom, alongside human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, and Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of science, culture and education agency UNESCO, issued a call for “Open Science”, describing it as a “fundamental matter of human rights”, and arguing for cutting-edge technologies and discoveries to be available for those who need them most.

But what exactly does Open Science mean, and why does the UN insist on making it more widespread?

1) What is ‘Open Science’?

Open Science has been described as a growing movement aimed at making the scientific process more transparent and inclusive by making scientific knowledge, methods, data and evidence freely available and accessible for everyone.

The Open Science movement has emerged from the scientific community and has rapidly spread across nations. Investors, entrepreneurs, policy makers and citizens are joining this call.

However, the agency also warns that, in the fragmented scientific and policy environment, a global understanding of the meaning, opportunities and challenges of Open Science is still missing.

2) Why is Open Science important?

Open Science facilitates scientific collaboration and the sharing of information for the benefit of science and society, creating more and better scientific knowledge, and spreading it to the wider population.

UNESCO has described Open Science as a “true game changer”: by making information widely available, more people can benefit from scientific and technological innovation.

3) Why is it needed now?

Because, in a world that is more inter-connected than ever before, many of today’s challenges do not respect political or geographic borders, and strong international scientific collaboration is essential to overcome the problems. The COVID-19 pandemic is a prime example.

We also have the tools to make it happen: with digitalization becoming ever more widespread, it is far easier than ever before to share scientific knowledge and data, which are needed to enable decisions that can lead to overcoming global challenges to be based on reliable evidence.

4) What is the impact of Open Science on the pandemic?

In this global health emergency, thanks to international collaboration, scientists have improved their understanding of the coronavirus with unprecedented speed and openness, embracing the principles of Open Science. Journals, universities, private labs, and data repositories have joined the movement, allowing open access to data and information: some 115,000 publications have released information related to the virus and the pandemic, and more than 80 per cent of them can be viewed, for free, by the general public.

Early in the pandemic, for example, Chinese scientists readily shared the genome of the virus, jumpstarting all following research into the virus, and the diagnostic testing, treatments, and vaccines that have since been developed.

Finally, the crisis has underlined the urgent need to bring science closer to decision making and to society as a whole. Fighting misinformation and promoting evidence-based decision-making, supported by well-informed citizens, has proven to be of vital importance in the fight against COVID 19.

5) What is the UN doing to promote Open Science?

To ensure that Open Science truly meets its potential, and benefits both developed and developing countries, UNESCO is taking the lead in building a global consensus on values and principles for Open Science that are relevant for every scientists and every person independently of their place of origin, gender, age or economic and social background.

The future UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science is expected to be the international instrument to set the right and just standards for Open Science globally, which fulfil the human right to science and leave no one behind.  

In a statement released on World Science Day for Peace and Development, celebrated on 10 November, Ms. Azoulay said that widening the scope of Open Science will help science to “unlock its full potential”, making it more effective and diverse by “enabling anyone to contribute, but also to bring its objectives in line with the needs of society, by developing scientific literacy in an informed citizenry who take responsibility and are involved in collective decision-making”.

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