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Boffins ask for £338m to fund quantum research. Here's £80m

Meanwhile, jocks in US Senate shove $1.275bn at field

The UK Treasury has decided that £80m is perfectly sufficient to support quantum research – a quarter of a billion less than what was asked for.

Norman Lamb MP, chair of the House of Commons' Science and Technology Committee, bemoaned some impressive underfunding by the Treasury in a letter (PDF) sent to the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the end of last week.

With the first phase of the UK's National Quantum Technologies Programme due to come to an end (at least as far as funding is concerned) in 2019, the Strategic Advisory Board suggested that £338m might be appropriate for phase 2.

The request likely had treasury ministers passing tea through their nostrils in surprise, and the UK government responded by allocating £80m for what it called "National Quantum Technology Hubs".

Quantum technology is one of the industrial challenges the UK government has identified in a paper published in May 2017 as needing tackling (along with the likes of driverless cars and advanced robotics). As is the norm for anything involving the word "quantum", the paper enthusiastically suggested that the technology, when it ever truly emerges from the world of vaporware, could transform industry, boost defence, make telecoms great and sprinkle the world with magical fairy dust.

Lamb conceded that the proposed funding will help keep the skills built by the research sector, and that money from the National Physical Laboratory would see a "small number of demonstrator projects" created. However, he said more investment would be needed to maintain the momentum.

US to take a quantum leap

While letters fly to and fro within Whitehall, lawmakers on the other side of the pond have pressed ahead with the approval of the National Quantum Initiative Act unanimously by the US House of Representatives.

The Act, H.R. 6227 (PDF), must now make its way through the US Senate, and at least one chipmaker is cheering it on, hoping that the bipartisan support enjoyed thus far will continue.

The Act is broken down into several parts. It first calls on the president to implement a 10-year National Quantum Initiative Program, designed to accelerate technology research and build up a workforce with the necessary skills.

It will see $400m invested at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (spread over five years to the tune of $80m a year); $250m at a Quantum Information Science Research and Education Program to teach the subject; and finally $625m will be spent by the Secretary of Energy in $125m chunks from fiscal year 2019 through 2023 on a Quantum Information Science Research Program.

At $1.275bn, the figures involved dwarf the amount proposed by the UK treasury, although the Senate may well choose to tinker with the numbers in much the same way as Britain's Chancellor.

The Register contacted the UK Science and Technology Committee to get their thoughts, but we have yet to receive a response. ®


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