In conversation about quantum technology

In this interview, Prof. Dr. Dr. Oliver Ambacher, Director of Fraunhofer IAF, and Business Unit Manager Dr. Ralf Ostendorf talk about research and development in the field of quantum technologies at Fraunhofer IAF.

What is Fraunhofer IAF's vision and mission in relation to quantum technology?

Ambacher  Quantum technologies are an important future field with major development opportunities in a wide range of markets. As such, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft has identified it as a Strategic Research Field with the vision to developing innovative and powerful second-generation quantum systems and to promoting the transfer of knowledge, the acquisition of intellectual property rights and the exploitation of research results in this field.

Ostendorf — Our task as a Fraunhofer Institute is to harness the vast potential of quantum technology and translate it into innovative, industrially viable quantum sensing and quantum computing processes and applications. We already have the expertise and an outstanding research infrastructure for this purpose, which we will continue to expand in order to address these challenges. It will also be important to communicate the opportunities presented by quantum technology to industrial partners and the general public. Our application laboratory quantum sensing and the Competence Center Quantum Computing Baden-Württemberg already represent a great environment for work in this field and will allow us to drive forward intensive developments.

© Fraunhofer IAF
Prof. Dr. Dr. Oliver Ambacher, Director of Fraunhofer IAF
© Fraunhofer IAF
Dr. Ralf Ostendorf, Business Unit Manager Semiconductor Lasers and Deputy Business Unit Manager Quantum Systems

Where does the specific expertise of Fraunhofer IAF lie?

Ostendorf — Quantum technology is basically nothing new for IAF. Every transistor, every diode laser is a device based on quantum effects and thus ultimately quantum technology.Our many years of experience in the fields of opto- and microelectronics and material development, particularly diamond growth, are a key mainstay for the development of quantum technologies in the context of the second quantum revolution. Our excellent laboratory and clean room infrastructure means that we are able to prepare and address quantum states such as color centers in diamond in a defined way, which is a basic requirement for both quantum sensing and quantum computing.

Ambacher — But it is important that we don’t focus exclusively on our own expertise here. It is by working within the strong research landscape in Germany, with a rich ecosystem of research groups, start-ups, SMEs and large companies with wide-ranging capabilities, that we will be able to expand the field. One thing is clear: European quantum technologies can only be developed successfully through a joint initiative where we pool our expertise.

What has Fraunhofer IAF achieved so far?

Ambacher — A great success in 2020 was the establishment of the Competence Center Quantum Computing Baden-Württemberg together with IBM and Fraunhofer IAO. With this, we have laid an important foundation for education and training in the field of quantum technologies in Germany. It enables us to train the specialists that will be needed to develop applications of quantum computing in the future. The location of the quantum computer in Ehningen guarantees that all data processed on this platform will be handled in accordance with German law. This is a decisive step towards independent quantum research in Germany.

Ostendorf — We are already participating in numerous quantum sensing research projects, with our activities focused on the use of diamond with nitrogen vacancy centers for quantum magnetometry. Our planned work on quantum computing hardware will also benefit from our findings relating to material development and the optical addressing of vacancy centers. In order to bundle the different project activities and to take advantage of the synergies at IAF, in 2020 we founded the business unit »Quantum Systems«, which brings the two areas together and acts as an interface with industry.

© Fraunhofer IAF
© Fraunhofer IAF

And where is still potential for further development?

Ambacher — We are already in the middle of the second generation of quantum technologies and we are now considering research questions such as: Where is room for further improvement? What does industry need? What other applications can we develop? A major weakness of today’s quantum systems is their susceptibility to failure, which requires, among other things, cooling to extremely low temperatures. We are working intensively on being able to use quantum sensors and quantum computing even at room temperature. This would broaden the fields of application and facilitate integration into industrial processes.

Ostendorf — Specifically, we are currently conducting research in the field of quantum sensing to increase the sensitivity of diamond-based magnetic measurement systems by using the diamond as an active laser medium in a cavity. The results obtained this year in the laboratory at Fraunhofer IAF are very promising and could soon improve measurements of brain waves in compact magnetometers. We have also acquired two scanning probe systems this year, in which we will measure and image current and magnetic field distributions on a nanometer scale using nitrogen vacancy centers in diamond tips. So there still is a lot to do and to develop!

Further information

Quantum computing at Fraunhofer IAF


An overview of the research work of Fraunhofer IAF in the field of quantum computing can be found here.

Quantum sensing at Fraunhofer IAF

We are conducting research on diamond for quantum sensors.

Competence Center Quantum Computing

The Competence Center Quantum Computing in Baden-Württemberg connects stakeholders in the state.